Matteo Cavalca was born on December 9, 2002, in Vancouver, BC, the second son of his parents Tatiana and Roger. Early examinations of Matteo revealed that he had been born with fused kidneys. The condition of his kidneys did not slow Matteo down and he went on to grow into an active and vibrant young boy.
In 2014, Matteo fell at a Junior Youth evening; his family did not realize at the time that their lives were about to drastically change. Two days after his fall, Matteo began throwing up. Diagnoses from a family doctor was that Matteo had picked up a stomach flu, but the next day Matteo started passing blood in his urine. His parents were concerned and made two trips with Matteo to the Richmond Hospital, but doctors were unable to find anything wrong with their son. When his condition did not improve, they waited with him at the Children’s Hospital Emergency for nine hours until he was admitted, still with no explanation for his faltering health.
A CT scan and three ultrasounds would reveal that Matteo had stage 3 Wilms tumour in his kidney. His family would spend the next 32 days at the hospital as inpatients. While his parents were devastated by the news, the team of doctors preparing Matteo’s treatment plan assured them that because they had discovered the Wilms tumour when they did, Matteo had a 99% chance of a full recovery.
Matteo would go through his cancer treatment with love and support from his family, friends, and community. In February of 2015, doctors explained to Matteo and his parents that depending on the size of his cancerous tumour, they may need to remove his whole kidney. Matteo’s fused kidneys meant that he would need a kidney transplant to survive if this was the case. His medical team did everything they could, but it soon became apparent that Matteo would surely need a transplant.
Matteo’s mother began testing to see if she could be a living donor for Matteo. Others joined her, selfless in their quest to give Matteo a second chance at life. Several members of Matteo’s family were perfect matches. However during the work-up process for the family members doctors found small health issues that were non-life threatening for them but would diminish the kidney’s life-expectancy once transplanted into Matteo. Unfortunately, it would be difficult to find the perfect match for Matteo’s kidney transplant. His family’s faith kept them strong throughout the uncertainty of their son’s journey.
On November 23rd, 2017, at about 6:15 pm, Matteo’s family received a call that there was a kidney available from a deceased donor for Matteo, a perfect match. Matteo’s mother wrote to family and friends, “please not only pray with us that everything goes well with the surgery, but also pray for the grieving family.” At 11 pm on November 24th, Matteo would go into surgery. His family would be notified that the surgery was complete at 4 am on November 25th, Matteo’s grandpa’s birthday, a day that would now become even more special to Matteo’s family as it celebrates his grandfather and his second chance at life.
Matteo, who had been battling an episode with the flu on top of his deteriorating health, was weak prior to the surgery. His parents were worried about their son going into surgery in such a debilitated condition, but doctors assured them it was his only chance. He received blood transfusions before and after the surgery and was intubated during recovery.
Matteo’s transplant became the first organ transplant to be done at the BC Children Hospital’s new Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. His family would refer to his new kidney as “super-duper kidney.”
For months following the surgery, his parents rode a rollercoaster of relief for the Gift of Life their son had been given, and fear for the complications in his recovery. Matteo showed signs of a lung collapse and a cystogram would reveal a tear in his bladder, but a biopsy done of the new kidney would confirm that it was not showing any signs of rejection. Despite the setbacks along the way, Matteo’s family was always grateful.
Alongside the challenges with his physical health, Matteo was facing the mental challenges that came with being isolated from his life outside the hospital. Matteo’s mother and father took turns being at home with his older brother, Bruno, and their dog, Ginger, and Matteo longed for the day he could return home with them
As December rolled on, it appeared the family would be spending Christmas at the hospital, reflecting on this reality, Matteo’s mother wrote an update to friends and family explaining, “the four of us will be together and that’s what matters the most!” She would have both her sons with her for another Christmas. Matteo would end up receiving a day pass from his doctors and they would spend Christmas together in their home, with Ginger too. Bruno comforted his little brother when he had to return to the hospital and Matteo decided not to take any more day passes because returning to the hospital was too difficult for him after the taste of being home.
Matteo would spend the first three months of 2018 in and out of the hospital. Weekly blood work, nephrostrograms, appointments with several specialists, pharmacokinetic testing, and kidney biopsies kept the Cavalca family busy. At this time, Matteo’s parents could not be more thankful for this kind of busy because it meant their son was in recovery. Surgery to repair the tear in Matteo’s ureter would take longer than normal because his abdominal cavity was full of scar tissue from the numerous abdominal surgeries and radiation therapy he had already been through since 2015.
Returning home after the long-anticipated surgery to repair his ureter, Matteo’s family finally felt as if they could breathe easier. “I also have to confess that now that we are breathing again, I feel so tired… it’s like I have been carrying a ton of rocks for 3.5 years and I can finally rest. So we have been taking the time, as a family, to rest,” Matteo’s mother writes on March 22, 2018.
This past summer, the family balanced work, fun, appointments, and rest, making up for the time Matteo felt he had lost during his long stay at the hospital. He has regained his strength, sense of humour, and playful spirit with the unconditional support from his family, friends, teachers, peers, and medical teams. When September came, the family took time to reflect on their quality time this summer and how much it meant to them, as well as how important it was for Matteo’s mental and physical recovery.
Matteo has received excellent reports during his follow-ups at the hospital and he will begin grade 10 this fall. Matteo will be on immune-supressing medications for the rest of his life in order to keep his super-duper kidney, but the challenges are worth the ultimate gift that he has been given.
Matteo’s family is beyond grateful for his donor and the family that made his transplant possible; the medical teams that became friends; the friends that became family; the David Foster Foundation and the community from all around the world who offered support and prayer for them during the most difficult time of their lives.