By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent
For those who believe that the true meaning of Christmas is to give up one’s very self or to find ways of bringing happiness to others, then West Windsor resident Niles Farnham would undoubtedly be deeply thankful.
Farnham, 22, was born with Alport Syndrome, a genetic disease that involves a loss of eyesight and hearing (in his case), and eventually, the failure of the kidneys. It is a familial disorder, running in his family on his mother’s side.
In order to remain alive, routine dialysis treatments or a new set of kidneys are necessary.
At this juncture of his young life, Farnham is in stage 5 renal failure, meaning that his kidneys are working to a capacity of about 10-15 percent. He needs an immediate transplant.
Despite this, however, Farnham presses on every day with optimism.
“I do try to stay positive,” Farnham said. “It’s the best. There’s no reason to be negative. I’m just a generally happy person. I also have a lot of help from my family that makes things much easier. They’re really positive, too.”
Indeed, Farnham’s mother, Debra Danforth, explained that her son was born joyful.
“He smiled from the time he came out until now,” said Danforth. “In fact, when he was a baby, we called him “Niles Smiles.”
Danforth said it’s challenging to see a loved child grow up and work so hard at staying so healthy.
“This is a life-threatening situation but we’re positive that God will do the right thing and find the perfect kidney for him,” said Danforth.
The donor can be a living one, she related, who will get three years of aftercare.
“The time in the hospital is minimal,” said Danforth. “We’re very blessed that things are working out for us, that Niles is being taken care of by Dartmouth Hitchcock. And, for your readers, we really believe in the power of prayer.”
Currently, Farnham lives with his father, Stuart, and stepmother, Jessie, in West Windsor. His older brother, Dan, lives in Poultney, and the two are very close, Farnham indicated.
Farnham moved to the Upper Valley four months ago, after living with his mother in Amesbury, Massachusetts, where he attended high school. After graduating, he enrolled in Northshore Community College in Danvers, Massachusetts, where he was a student for one year.
“I moved here because Dartmouth Hitchcock is one of the best in the country for kidney transplants, and my parents live close,” said Farnham.
Doctors at DHMH want Farnham to have a transplant before this March in order to avoid dialysis. He will be going into the hospital next week to have surgery for prepping for dialysis, however, just in case.
This week, Farnham will be going to the tissue lab at Dartmouth to see if there’s a match with a potential donor. He only needs one kidney to successfully stay alive.
In the meantime, he remains as active as he can, working out on the days he feels well enough and working well over 40 hours a week at Biron’s Flooring in Newport.
“It’s important to stay in top physical shape because that’s what’s needed for the transplant,” said Farnham. “Besides, going to work every day gives me something to do rather than sitting around and worrying about whether I’m going to get a donor or not.”
Along with keeping fit, Farnham has to be extremely careful about his diet, avoiding such foods as ice cream, cheese, peanut butter, ham, chocolate, or baked potatoes. The list accentuates eliminating sodium, potassium, and phosphates — substances that his kidneys can’t process.
When he was working out with weightlifting earlier last year, pressing up to 225 pounds, he was eating an expensive six meals a day. He was also working for New England Truck Tire, lifting 18-wheeler tires — some weighing 200 pounds — on and off on a regular basis.
“Some of the tires were actually as tall as me,” said Farnham who stands at 6 feet, 2 inches.
In addition to bulking up on his diet, Farnham took nutritional supplements as well. But soon — just as recently as last month — there was a significant increase in his levels of creatinine, a chemical waste product that is filtered out of the bloodstream by healthy kidneys.
Like Farnham, if the kidneys aren’t functioning properly, an increased level of creatinine may accumulate in the blood. Farnham’s most recent test indicated that he was in a critical state relative to the operation of his own kidneys.
Farnham has blood type O so he needs a donor with the same blood type. The one donor who is waiting in the wings has months before lab tests and other screening processes materialize, so he and his family are looking for more.
Just recently, Farnham discovered that he has been placed on the waiting list at DHMH for a kidney. He carries a pager with him in case he’s contacted by the hospital at which time he’ll know it’s time for a new life.
For those interested in donating, please call Cathy Pratt, donation coordinator at DHMC at 603 653-3931 or visit dartmouth-hitchcock.org/transplantation/living_donation.html.
This article first appeared in the January 5, 2017 edition of the Vermont Standard.