By Conor McCue

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – A Littleton teen with a rare medical disorder is getting a new chance at life after a recent kidney donation. It’s his second transplant and comes after the overwhelming response following his family’s plea for a donor on CBS4 in late December.

At 15 years old, Joe Wren has dreams of being a country music star, but for now, his passion serves another purpose.

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“My country music helped me through a lot,” Wren said. “I believe that music is medicine.”

(credit: CBS)

Wren was born with a rare disorder known as Eagle-Barrett syndrome, often called Prune Belly syndrome. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, it’s often characterized by “partial absence of some or most abdominal muscles giving rise to a wrinkled or prune-like appearance,” and complications can include underdevelopment of the lungs and failure of the kidneys.

At 3 years old, Joe had his first kidney transplant at Children’s Hospital Colorado, and 12 years later, needed another.  In December, Joe, and his mother, Sherie, told CBS4 his kidney function was at 19%.

(credit: Wren family)

“When it’s your second transplant it’s even more daunting because your body has already made antibodies to the first one,” Sherie Wren said.

The wait for a donor spanned into March before Joe took a turn for the worse.

“Within one month his kidney function really took a big nosedive,” Wren said. “He ended up having to go on dialysis.”

It was a scary, but short-lived situation. Several weeks later, Joe’s fortunes changed again.

According to Sherie, a woman who saw Joe’s story on CBS4 and donated a kidney to someone else made Joe her benefactor, which moved him up the donor list. Many others reached out as well.

“They said so far that I know of, it’s 112 people called to try to be a match for Joe, which was very, very humbling,” Wren said.

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According to Children’s Hospital Colorado, those calls resulted in donor matches for three people including Joe. On May 6, he got his kidney.

“Obviously, Joe gained his life back. He’s not on dialysis and he’s a normal kid now but I think donors get a tremendous sense of gratification out of this process,” said Dr. Megan Adams, a transplant surgeon with Children’s Hospital Colorado and UCHealth. “We often see donors that have been prior kidney donors come back and then ask to be liver donors as well.”

Weeks ago, Joe met his donor over Zoom. At the time of the operation, he lived in Austin, Texas and has since moved to Portugal.

(credit: Wren family)

“It was really cool how much we had in common,” Wren said. “He used to have a country music band back in Austin and I play country music.”

With their connection deeper than initially expected, Joe hopes to one day meet the donor in person.

“All I can say is thank you to him and I’m so grateful that I know him now in my life,” Wren said.

Doctors say he will likely need another kidney in about 20 years, but until then, he’ll live a more normal life.

“He should go to school like any other kid,” Adams said. “I know Joe wants to be a country music star, so he can pursue his dreams of playing the guitar and being a country music star.”

Between Children’s Hospital and UCHealth, there are more than 40 pediatric patients and thousands of adults currently waiting on a kidney donation, Adams said. If you are at all interested in the process, you can take the first step by filling out a live donor screening at uchealthlivingdonor.org/.

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“There’s a humongous response in Colorado, especially to pediatric patients,” Adams said. “Colorado is a very giving state, and we have more anonymous donors here than any other state in the country.”

Conor McCue