When Douglas Seifman was about six months old, he stopped growing.
Scared his mother.
And baffled his doctors.
"Douglas' pediatrician was mystified. So we went to another, and another, each one wanting to poke Douglas and prod him and take this sample and that sample," said his mother, Karen.
Finally, Karen found her way to Phoenix Children's Hospital. Doctors there were also puzzled, but admitted Douglas to the hospital and put him on a feeding tube for 24 hours to see if he would gain weight through precisely controlled nutrition and fluid intake. He did. Then they ordered an ultrasound. This test finally revealed that Douglas had a third kidney, piggybacked onto one of his two normal kidneys.
"The kidney on his left side was abnormal," said his mother. "It looked like almost another half of a kidney was attached. It had been seeping toxins throughout his body, causing the inability to grow and gain weight."
The kidneys are a filtration system, responsible for removing toxins from the bloodstream, regulating blood pressure, and controlling fluid levels in the body. Ordinarily the two, bean-shaped kidneys, each about four inches long, filter 180 quarts of fluid a day - sending about one percent of the fluid down the urinary tract to the bladder.
The kidneys contain a million microscopic structures called nephrons, each about 1.6 inches long. A series of narrowing tubes funnels the blood entering the kidneys into the nephrons, raising the pressure within these threadlike tubes so that the body's waste products are filtered out.
The kidneys also release vitamin D, which allows the intestine to absorb calcium and helps regulate blood pressure. In addition, the kidneys release hormones that prompt the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. The kidneys also regulate the body's fluid levels.
The exquisitely balanced system had broken down in Douglas' body. Doctors carefully explained the need for surgery.
"They said everything was going to that third kidney, and wasn't getting to the other kidneys, or to the rest of his body," recalled Joan Kaufman, Douglas' grandmother, who still can't talk about the surgery without tearing up.
Doctors removed the kidney in a two-hour surgery, dissecting with elaborate care the array of connections between the kidney and bloodstream at one end and the urinary tract at the other. Once the surgical team removed the defective kidney that had been leaking toxins into the bloodstream, Douglas' two normal kidneys took over the job of filtering waste products from his body. He responded immediately.
"He weathered the surgery well, and the nurses and staff made Douglas feel special, like he was the only little boy in the hospital," Karen said. Douglas' grandmother was so impressed with the hospital's care that she made a sizeable donation to PCH.
Douglas, now 8, is a bright, active, healthy second-grader.
"He is gaining weight and growing, and is just a little shorter than his classmates," observed his mother. With an upbeat personality and a ready smile, Douglas is one of the most popular kids in his class, she added.
"Thank you, Phoenix Children's Hospital, for giving me back my happy boy," she said.