Back to Being a Kid Again After Transplant

After the Henoch-Schonlein purpura disorder she was diagnosed with at just seven years of age left her with a progressive amount of kidney damage, BilliJo Bowman’s family came to Mayo Clinic in search of a life-saving kidney transplant for their now-12-year-old daughter.

In 2015, in the midst of her fight against Henoch-Schonlein purpura, then-10-year-old BilliJo Bowman was granted a wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Instead of wishing for something that would provide a respite from her battle against a condition that causes "inflammation and bleeding in the small blood vessels in your skin, joints, intestines and kidneys," BilliJo requested to be a paramedic for a day.

Her ensuing adventure, the Journal of Emergency Medical Services reports, "covered the entire city of Union (Missouri)" where she "attended a paramedic training class, rode in an ambulance to 'treat' patients throughout the community, and treated her younger brother for a simulated 'burn injury.'" Her "favorite part of the day," the journal reports, was riding to the hospital in a helicopter with her brother.

It wasn't the first time BilliJo had been in a medical helicopter. Rochester's KAAL-TV reports her first ride occurred under very different circumstances. When BilliJo was just 7 years old, she developed "red dots" on her elbows and knees, and her pediatrician diagnosed BilliJo with Henoch-Schonlein purpura. Doctors told the family there was a chance the disorder could improve on its own, but instead, BilliJo's condition worsened. One morning BilliJo's mom, Candace Bowman, noticed her daughter struggling to work a television remote control. "I said, 'What are you doing honey?' And she said, 'I don't know what button to push,'" Candace tells KAAL-TV. "I knew right then something was wrong." Then BilliJo's speech began to slur. "I immediately grabbed her blood pressure cuff [and] her medication, but it was too late," Candace says. "She was already stroking."

BilliJo was airlifted to a local hospital where, after being "revived on the way," she was initially placed on life support. "I woke up, and I was not feeling good," BilliJo tells the station.

Fortunately, even though there have been "many more hospital visits" and treatments including chemotherapy and dialysis, BilliJo's disorder has gone into remission. Damage to her kidneys, however, made her a candidate for a kidney transplant. So in May 2016, BilliJo traveled to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus and was placed on the national transplant list. "Less than a year later," KAAL reports, her doctor called with some "life-changing" news. "When mom answered, he said, 'How fast can you get here?'" BilliJo tells the station.

After driving "all night" from Missouri, BilliJo and her family arrived in Rochester. A few hours later, a Mayo Clinic transplant team was working to give BilliJo a new, healthier life. So far the kidney is showing no signs of rejection, and BilliJo and her family are grateful for the gift they've been given. "We're just very happy. We're very blessed," Candace says.

Those attending the Gift of Life Transplant House's "Gala of the Decades" on Aug. 26 in Rochester will hear more of BilliJo's story: she's been booked as a guest speaker at this year's event.

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