The gray 2005 Nissan Quest sports utility vehicle that Beatriz Foster drives looks a lot like those of many other suburban moms.
There’s a requisite baby seat for her 3-month-old and juice boxes scattered around inside.
But instead of a sticker on the back window announcing something innocuous like “Kids on board,” Foster uses that space to advertise for something she desperately needs — a new kidney for her 4-year-old son.
Since this is Philly, you can imagine the crazy responses that come in. Many are sincere offers to help, but some are from folks who wouldn’t mind selling a kidney for a quick payday.
Never mind that it’s illegal to sell body parts in the United States.
Never mind that it’s cruel to dangle an offer like that in front of parents desperate to save their third-born child.
“It makes me angry because people don’t realize what a financial hardship it is to have a medically fragile child," Beatriz Foster told me in a text message this week. “Even if buying one was possible, it would be very unlikely many would be able to afford it.”
She added, "We are depending on someone to donate out of the goodness of their heart.”
Sebastian’s parents, who live in Gloucester City, have been waiting for a donor for two years. Unfortunately, nobody in their family is a match or qualifies, and no other donor has been identified.
Doctors diagnosed Sebastian with a blockage in his urinary tract before birth. They removed it shortly after he was born and also diagnosed him with chronic kidney disease. Over time, his condition has worsened.
Around his birthday this past February, Sebastian’s kidney function dropped from around 12% to less than 5%. His kidneys were essentially not functioning, so he started daily peritoneal dialysis treatments to remove wastes and extra fluid from his body. His parents administer it at home through a tube inserted in his abdomen for nine and a half hours each evening. It’s a laborious treatment that he will have to endure until a new kidney is found.
Even before that setback, Foster had decided to start actively crowdsourcing for a kidney for her son. Originally, she was writing on her car with window paint that washed off every time it rained. Then, she got signage made that affixes to the back window, thus creating the “kidney van” as it’s called.
I learned what she was doing this week when I saw a photo of the vehicle posted on the popular No Gun Zone Instagram account.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than 100,000 Americans are waiting for kidney transplants — but only 17,000 get one each year. Roughly 12 people a day die awaiting a kidney transplant.
“Although children are allocated priority to try and get them off dialysis quickly, they are still waiting two to three years or so,” said Dr. Sandra Amaral, a physician at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania’s division of nephrology. “That’s a long time in childhood when your brain is developing and your body is supposed to be growing and well nourished. … It’s not good for your health. It’s not good for your long-term survival.”
That’s why Foster’s hustling to get the word out. She has three other kids and a full-time job in operations at a charter school. Her husband drives a truck. There’s not enough time in a day to do it all, but Sebastian needs a kidney sooner rather than later.