Saturday, March 31, 2001
It was five months ago when a large jar of money was stolen from the McDonald's in Steamboat Springs. The money was being collected to help save the life of a baby in desperate need of several organ transplants.
Word got out about the cruel theft and Routt County residents came to the rescue, raising more than $13,000 after hearing the story.
Today, 17-month old Kyjah Merrin Burandt is lying in a Nebraska hospital, with numerous tubes connected to her tiny body.
And her parents and grandparents couldn't be happier.
"Saturday morning they got the call to go," said grandmother Kris Jones from her Hayden home.
"She was transported from Denver to Omaha and they got her the transplant."
Kyjah (pronounced Kie'-yuh) was born with a rare digestive disorder in which the intestine and colon develop outside of the body during pregnancy.
Doctors needed to replace her liver, intestine and pancreas in order to keep her alive.
Things started looking grim several weeks ago when the baby developed some bleeding problems.
She was moved up on a donor list.
Then Saturday, March 24, the parents, 19-year-old Kate and 21-year-old Matt Burandt, got the call.
The baby was immediately flown from Denver's Children's Hospital to Lied Transplant Center at the University of Nebraska, and she was in surgery before her parents arrived in Omaha by car.
The baby's mother, Kate Burandt, was obviously exhausted as she talked about her child's condition, just three days after the surgery.
"The doctors came in this afternoon and told us she's doing exceptionally well," said Burandt.
"She's not yellow anymore, she's finally pink."
Kyjah's color was the most visible sign that the transplants appeared to be going well and it was the favorite topic of discussion amongst the family.
"It's been absolutely amazing to see that our little golden baby is now pink," said great-grandmother Margaret Zeiher.
"We know the liver is working. God love her, she's even got little pink toes."
Burandt wanted folks in Routt County to hear how the baby they once helped is doing now.
"She can barely open her eyes, but she still wants to sit up all the time and play with her toys," her mother said.
However, Kyjah's new life has come at the cost of some other family's tragedy.
"We just know that it was a baby," Burandt said about the donor.
"Someone younger, under a year old."
Burandt said the recipient family isn't allowed to know who the donor family is, but they are allowed to write a letter to the family and send it through the hospital.
When asked about what she might write to the other family, Burandt was at a loss.
"I don't even know what to say to that," Burandt said with sadness in her young voice.
"It's not like you can go to Wal-Mart and buy a thank you card."
Where to call home
While other 19-year-old girls are partying on their college spring breaks around the country, Kate and her husband could spend up to three more months at the hospital watching their child recover.
One of the parents will look for a job in Omaha while the other one will stay by Kyjah's side.
Medicaid might help with the $360,000 hospital bill, but the Burandts are waiting to hear more about their options when they meet with hospital officials.
However, grandmother Kris Jones said she wishes the couple would join her in Routt County where life is peaceful.
"It's a nice community and beautiful part of the country."
Jones, who moved here two years ago, said the donations and outpouring of love from the community astounded her.
"It made me love the community even more," Jones said.
"This area is special to me."
Jones is spending a week in Omaha with her daughter and only grandchild.
The transplant center recommends the parents and the child stay close to the hospital for at least six months to a year while they monitor the baby's condition.
Dying without donors
Many people may not realize how lucky Kyjah is.
"Fifty percent of the kids on the waiting list die, so Kyjah is very blessed to get this chance," said Cindy Brown, pediatric liver/intestinal transplant coordinator at the Lied Transplant Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Brown said many families don't realize that intestines can be donated.
"Kyjah was lucky to get organs," Brown said. "All the centers are down this year because organs aren't being donated."
More than ten years ago, Kyjah's chances wouldn't have looked good, even with the transplant.
"In the world of transplants, intestinal transplants are relatively new," Brown explained.
Intestinal transplants were rare and survival rates were low until 1990.
That's when a new immune suppression drug was approved that dramatically increased the survival rate for those who receive intestinal transplants.
Like Kyjah, many of those transplants are done with liver transplants as well, which makes the procedure even more complicated.
"When you do two transplants at the same time, you have a higher risk of rejection, especially when one is an intestine," Brown said.
Chances for survival
The Lied Transplant Center is one of the top three centers for liver and intestinal transplants in the country.
Only a Pittsburgh hospital has done as many liver/intestinal transplants as Lied, Brown said.
With new immune suppression drugs, Kyjah's chances for survival in the first year are 60 percent at Lied. The worldwide statistics for liver/intestinal transplants show only a 50 percent survival rate. But the relatively new procedure has made it difficult to predict long-term success.
Brown said they haven't been able to accumulate sufficient five-year statistics yet.
Still, she said she is hopeful.
"I've got two pictures of kids wearing their prom dresses," Brown said about two of her patients who received similar transplants in 1991.