Early Intervention

Wixom Elementary Parent Donates Kidney to Save Neighbor’s Life

When Alex and Laura Kashenider moved into their home in Wixom, they remembered seeing a family playing basketball in the driveway three doors down. Little did they know, their two families would forever be linked just a few years later.

The Kasheniders and the Munros became friends almost immediately, then welcomed baby girls into the world two days apart. While that brought them closer, nothing would compare to the bond that was formed November 18, 2021.

The Beginning

Alex and Laura Kashenider were excited for the birth of their second child on June 8, 2020; a baby boy named AJ. Although, they knew the road ahead wasn’t going to an easy one.

AJ was born at 36 weeks with end-stage renal failure. The lack of function in his kidneys forced him into the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. AJ was on life support and the outlook was grim, but he fought. After three months, AJ was finally able to go home, however, he would need 12 hours of peritoneal dialysis per day.

The Perfect Match

The process to find a kidney started when AJ turned one.

“We (posted a message) on social media, and the response was insane,” said Laura. “The University of Michigan told us that so many people submitted to be tested that they had to turn people away.”

One of those people was Kyle Munro.

“I thought about it for a very brief night maybe, and then I applied,” said Kyle.

He got a call the following day and was asked to come in for a screening. A few months later, the Kashenider’s neighbor got a letter saying he was a perfect match.

“I remember (Kyle) telling me at a neighborhood birthday party,” reflected Laura. “He was like, ‘I got my letter, I’m cleared to go’, and I began crying.”

The Kasheniders and Munros received the news in July and the surgery was scheduled for November.

The Day

Alex and Laura remember the day, November 18, 2021, as a “high stress” one. They sat in the hospital cafeteria with Kyle’s wife, Caitlyn, as she awaited news on Kyle’s surgery. Then, it was AJ’s turn. Both went off without a hitch.

“We managed to sneak Kyle into the PICU the next day to see (AJ),” said Laura. “It was wild because Kyle got up out of the wheelchair by himself less than 24 hours after surgery.”

Kyle went home that afternoon and felt close to 100 percent within a week and half. Two weeks later, AJ returned home and the Munro’s were the first to greet the family at the door.

Early Intervention

The road for AJ hadn’t been an easy one to this point, but at 17 months old, the real work was about to begin.

The Kasheniders enrolled in the Early Intervention program at Walled Lake Consolidated Schools, which works with kids from birth to three years old who have developmental delays. The program focuses on gross motor skills, fine motor skills, cognitive, and speech and language.

“AJ’s walrus scoot was as good as we could get it, and he was really struggling,” said Alex. “You could tell he was frustrated because he wanted to play with his big sister, Clara, and the neighbors.”

Mary Galli, a service coordinator in the WLCSD Early Intervention program, started working virtually with AJ and his family when he was five months old. Once COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in August of 2021, Mary was able to start home visits twice a week.

“(Mary)’s been awesome just really helping us focus our efforts to make sure he’s hitting the right milestones, and (she’s) always trying to go the extra mile,” explained Alex. “When we finally got her in the house is when I think he really turned a corner.”

“AJ wouldn’t have met the milestones without (early intervention),” Said Laura. “There’s just no way. I wouldn’t have known even where to start or what to do.”

“(AJ’s) family’s amazing because they push him, and his resilience and his perseverance to overcome that medical piece is amazing,” said Galli. “I mean, he wasn’t walking or doing any of that (at first).”

“He just jumped off the floor for me in there and I’m like, ‘you’re jumping!’, so that’s really cool for the parents to see a child who was very sick, become healthy, and be around his same age peers and play,” added Galli. “That’s what it’s about, helping them get to that point.”

AJ’s progress in a year has been a tremendous one. Six months after his transplant, AJ participated in the Kidney Walk at the Detroit Zoo. He and Kyle walked it together.

“AJ’s life has changed 100 percent,” said Laura with a smile. “The energy, the color, he’s hitting all of his physical goals now.”

“It’s really cool that Kyle gets to see the milestones that (AJ) reaches as well,” added Laura. “That’s not always the case because a lot of donors are anonymous, but it’s really special that they’ll know each other their entire lives.”

One Year Post Transplant

AJ and Kyle celebrated the one-year anniversary of the transplant on November 18, 2022. The following night, AJ and Kyle were the guests of honor at the National Kidney Foundation’s annual Kidney Ball fundraiser at the Motor City Casino in Detroit.

Kyle also received the United States Army Legion of Merit medal that night from Alex’s commanding officer.

“To be able to look down the street and know there’s the family that I donated my kidney to and kept his life going, (it’s) very, very, very special,” said Kyle. “AJ smiles really big every time he sees me, and I’m very happy to see him every time I do.”