BY SHELBY NIEHAUS
The way six-year-old St. Elmo resident Kinley Walker tell it, there’s a pile of “six million hundred” new toys, games, and plush dolls in the basement of her grandmother’s home. Her mother Hannah clarifies the real figure, but the mountain of toys is still massive: one stacked-full table, six plastic totes, and more on the way through the end of February.
Kinley and Hannah Walker, along with grandmother Vera Schroeder, are collecting new toys for an upcoming trip to St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where Kinley underwent a liver transplant in April of 2018. She intends to donate the toys to the Child Life Department, where they will be distributed to other kids like her during their hospital stays.
At ten weeks old, Kinley was diagnosed with biliary atresia (BA), a rare disease in which malformed or missing bile ducts prevent normal bile flow from the liver to the gallbladder. BA causes liver scarring, or cirrhosis, and eventual liver failure; most BA patients need a liver transplant before age 20, according to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and almost half need a transplant before age two.
Shortly after her diagnosis, Kinley underwent a surgery called a Kasai procedure intended to establish bile flow from the liver to the intestine. The Kasai’s success lasted until December of 2017, when doctors informed the Walkers that Kinley’s liver health was in decline.
And at five-and-a-half, Kinley underwent a much-needed transplant operation.
Here’s where the toys enter Kinley’s story. After her transplant, Kinley was immunosuppressed and couldn’t take visitors, or even walk at some points. To pass the time, she played with the toys she’d brought along, and staffers from the hospital’s Child Life Department brought her more things to play with. There was Bingo on the hospital’s TV’s (she proudly reports winning two prizes from the hospital’s coffers), the moon sand from her sister Reagan, a princess carriage that shoots bubbles, and more. With all the amusements, her already-short eight day hospital stay moved smoothly.
Not all kids stay for that short a period, though. Hannah commented that many transplant patients wait for at least two weeks before they’re discharged. On top of that, not all of the Children’s Hospital patients can bring toys from home, especially when they’re admitted after emergency visits. For both groups of patients, the Child Life Department’s stock of toys and games was a lifesaver. Just before Christmas time, Kinley and her family decided to give back to the Department with donations of their own.
Before Kinley’s April 5 one-year checkup, the Walkers and grandma Schroeder will pack their cars full of toys for the hospital, hopefully taking as many as their vehicles will carry. But until then, Kinley carries on the life of a six-year-old, albeit cut with labs at least every month.
Kinley’s story will continue after the one-year checkup. Like all transplant patients, she needs lifelong support and treatment to ensure her new liver works. However, Hannah Walker comments that liver transplants have been offered for decades, and the surgical community is relatively skilled in performing liver transplants by now. Information from Mayo Clinic indicates that around 70 percent of transplant recipients live for at least five years after their procedure.
“At this point, they think it’s possible to live a full life,” Hannah says. “The outlook is pretty good.”
The Walkers are still accepting toy donations, and will be until the end of February. For safety reasons, donated toys must be new and unused. Donations of money are also accepted; Kinley herself uses all donated funds during shopping trips for more toys. Those interested in donating may call Vera Schroeder at (618) 267-6638, or may call Hannah Walker at (618) 267-3169 or contact her via Facebook. Walker and Schroeder are willing to pick up donated items by arrangement.
Finally, keep up to date with Kinley’s fight with BA through Facebook, at “Battling BA Kinley’s Way.”
Cut kwalkerA: Six-year-old Kinley Walker smiles in her grandmother’s basement, where her treasure trove of soon-to-be-donated toys live until April. Kinley underwent a liver transplant in April of 2018 as part of treatment for biliary atresia. Of the chevron-shaped surgical scar on her stomach, Kinley says “I tell people it’s a shark bite.”