Metro-East Living

‘It’s a difficult thing to ask,’ but Lebanon basketball coach needs kidney for his son

Soft-spoken, polite and well-mannered 14-year-old Lebanon High School freshman Jackson Cruthis enjoys spending time with a small but close-knit group of friends.

He was the manager for the Lebanon Junior High boys basketball team a year ago, and is the son of Lebanon High School Athletic Director and girls basketball coach Chad Cruthis. When time permits he likes being social with what his dad called “his Xbox friends from all over the globe.”

Jackson also knows what its like to face a challenge. Born with Posterior Urethral Valve Disorder, he had a kidney transplant when he was only 3-years-old.

On New Year’s Eve day, the family learned that Jackson needs another new kidney.

“His doctors at Cardinal Glennon thought (the first transplanted kidney) would last five or six years. It wasn’t a great match, but it lasted 11 years and so the doctors were pleased with that,” Chad Cruthis said. ““We knew this day would come. It was about two years ago Jackson started showing signs of what they call the rejection mode. So for the past two years we’ve kind of been inching toward this.”

The toxins that seep into his blood stream from the failing kidney make Jackson tired and cause severe headaches. Blood samples once taken every six weeks are now drawn every two.

“As a parent it is so hard to watch your child go through this,” Chad Cruthis said.

Ruled out from being a donor 11 years ago because of high blood pressure, a healthier and slimmed down Chad Cruthis was still waiting on Sunday to hear from doctors on whether or not he will be allowed to give his son a kidney.

Days after learning their son is in need of a transplant, Chad and Kirsta Cruthis posted their son’s story on social media. More than 2,000 Facebook shares dispatched Jackson’s story throughout the world. Cruthis said last week that about a dozen potential donors had contacted St. Louis University Hospital.

“As parents it’s a difficult thing to ask anyone to do. But when it’s your kid, you will do anything to help them in anyway that you can,” Cruthis said. “ So as tough as it was to ask someone to consider this, we decided that this was the best route. His doctors would rather have a live donor if at all possible.

According to the Living Kidney Donor Network, there are currently more than 80,000 people in the United States on the kidney transplant waiting list.

The diagnosis

Jackson Cruthis was born with Posterior Urethral Valve Disorder, a condition which prevents the fetus from eliminating waste in utero.

“And so the bladder actually grew in size to accommodate the urine as it backed up. The urine backed up into Jackson’s kidneys and they could not form correctly enough to allow them to grow into a normal size,” Cruthis said.

Though just the size of walnuts, the kidneys functioned well with help from medications until the age of 3 when Jackson underwent his first transplant.

Both Kirsta and Chad Cruthis were not acceptable donors for their son the first time.

“Imagine that an athletic director and basketball coach with high blood pressure,” Cruthis said “Kirsta was actually cleared to donate the first time, but two weeks prior to the transplant, the donor goes through blood tests to make sure they didn’t miss anything. Well, they missed something and Kirsta was not allowed to donate.”

Jackson spent 11 months on the waiting list before getting his first kidney. His dad hopes that he can be the donor this time around.

“I had been determined a match except for the fact that I have a couple of extra arteries in my kidneys. It makes it dangerous for me and for Jackson because having those extra arteries changes the blood flow to the kidneys,” Cruthis said. “The doctors met Thursday to talk about whether they are going to let me donate or rule me completely out.

“We’ve kind of been in limbo for a about six weeks now.”

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Jackson Cruthis and his father Chad Cruthis. Jackson, a freshman at Lebanon high school, is in need of a kidney transplant. Derik Holtmann

Plenty of support

Chad Cruthis said his son is not on dialysis but does take about 20 medications in addition to receiving a shot each day. Still, Jackson goes to school and is a good student according to his dad. Classmates at Lebanon High School who know of his condition are supportive.

He’s not a very social person. He kind of keeps to himself and his close group of friends,” Chad Cruthis said. “If they only knew the struggles that he goes through on a daily basis — the 20 different medications that he takes every day and evening, the diet he is on and the restrictions that go a long with that.”

Jackson has the support of his teachers, especially those in the special education department, and the coaches and athletes his dad sees on the opposite end of the basketball court.

“Coaches are always wondering how he is getting along and how he’d doing,” Cruthis said. “John Crawford, who is one of the teachers in the special education program here at Lebanon, and Jackson have a good relationship along with his other teachers in that department.”

Members of the Greyhounds boys basketball team in 2008 sold wristbands to help pay for expenses related to the first transplant and raise awareness of Jackson’s fight. Others have pitched in with rides to and from the St. Louis hospitals.

“We’re lucky we live where we do. You a are not a number here in Lebanon,” Chad said.

Jackson’s biggest supporter is his older sister, Olivia Cruthis. A student at Illinois College in Jacksonville, she also offered to donate a kidney. Still just 20, she’s not eligible, but may be someday if further issues arise with Jackson’s health.

“They wanted to keep her as someone who later in life, if an issue came up where he would need a donor, then she could donate then,” Cruthis said of his daughter. “They are a typical brother and sister. They like each other a little bit sometimes.”

Cruthis said that after reading about Jackson’s struggle, a cousin who is in the Marines and stationed in Pakistan, also asked about the possibility of becoming a donor.

Jackson Cruthis throws out a ceremonial first pitch before the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers game at Busch Stadium Monday, May 1. Capturing the moment on his iPhone is his dad, Chad Cruthis, the athletic director and girls basketball coach at Lebanon High School. Benjamin Munson

Want to be a donor?

Jackson Cruthis has type O-positive blood, which must be a match with his donor. Preferred donors are between their mid 20s to about 50 years old and in good physical shape with a body mass index of 35 or under.

The donor can not have diabetes, high blood pressure and no family history of cancer.

Kidneys are generally taken through three incisions and donors are usually released from the hospital within two or three days.

Donors will have some limitations initially, but can go back to work when they feel they are up to it.

“For the first month or two, stamina is the big issue for donors as their body gets used to having one kidney. Their kidney will actually grow to compensate for the kidney they donated,” Cruthis said. “They can usually get back to normal activity within a month or two.”

Those interested in seeing if they could be a donor match for Jackson should contact St. Louis University Hospital Transplant Department at 314-577-5351.

Chad Cruthis knows his son will probably need a third transplant someday. But he knows that with the advances in medicine that there is more and more hope for Jackson’s future.

“Every year the technology gets better and better, as do the medicines. If we can get a live donor who is a good match it could be 20, 25 or even 30 years before something else pops up,” he said. “The doctors have told us that he will probably need at least one more transplant, but maybe in 15 years, there are medicines around where that doesn’t have to happen.”

Dean Criddle has worked at the Belleville News-Democrat for 32 years as a sports writer. Dean graduated from SIUE with a double major in journalism and English, is married and lives in Belleville.