Like most young children, Blake Bahr likes to play.
He fiddles with toys that light up and make silly sounds. He thumbs through books with colorful characters appearing on each page.
A photogenic smile and big, blue eyes show the innocence of the 14-month-old boy.
For his parents, Nick and Heather Bahr, they should be having the time of their lives caring for their only child. Except it hasn’t been an easy road.
Two days after being born in November 2014, Blake was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease. Having spent over 100 days of his young life in a hospital, Blake was placed on the kidney transplant list this summer.
“He takes every day in stride,” said Blake’s mother, Heather. “He goes through a lot. He is an awesome little guy.”
Laurie Jansen saw firsthand how a sick person reacts to a new kidney. In 1997, her mother received a kidney from a deceased donor.
“Within a matter of two weeks, she was like a new woman again,” Jansen recalled.
Seventeen years later, Jansen’s mom was in need of a second transplant. Jansen offered to be a donor and went through the initial round of the required testing. Sadly, her mother passed way unexpectedly.
Over the years, the idea of being a donor remained. Last summer, Jansen had trouble sleeping and pulled out her iPad. She was drawn to a Facebook page detailing Blake’s medical journey.
She then reached out to Blake’s mother, offering to become a life-saving donor.
“I tried to assure her I was a sane, reasonable person and this was something I truly wanted to do,” Jansen said.
Their lives became intertwined that day. Months later, Monday marked a special day in the journey — transplant day.
“She is a special woman,” Bahr said. “We feel like we’ve known each other for so long. “Our families will always be connected.”
Once Jansen offered to become a donor, she had to undergo a phone interview with medical professionals and pass a battery of tests to make sure she was healthy enough to go through the operation.
One by one, Jansen passed each step.
As the process played out, it was discovered both families had an unexpected connection. Known as Heather Woodcock at the time, Bahr graduated from Warrenton High School in 2000.
Jansen and her family moved to Warrenton in 2002 so their lives didn’t cross until now.
“We definitely feel God has hand in this,” said Bahr, who now resides in Arnold.
While Jansen and Bahr have communicated with each other through text messages and emails updating each other through the process, it wasn’t until last month both families had a chance to meet in person.
Blake went right to Jansen and sat on her lap.
“That day was truly indescribable,” Jansens aid. “It was a feeling of peace once I met him.”
Both Bahr and Jansen envision a much different lifestyle for Blake. His quality of life should immediately improve and all of the medical gadgets that he is connected to will be gone.
Prior to the transplant, he had a feeding tube and was hooked up to a dialysis machine for 13 hours each day.
“I keep trying to tell Heather, you won’t know what to do with this little boy full of energy once he gets a kidney,” Jansen said. “I am so excited for them to experience life without all of that.”
By all accounts, Monday’s transplant went well for both. Blake is expected to remain in the hospital for between two to four weeks, while Jansen should be discharged this week.
Outpouring of support
Blake’s medical journey has caught the attention of thousands, a journey that has been chronicled on nearly daily posts by his mother on a Facebook page, “Brave Blake’s Battle,” and those from the Warrenton area who have supported Jansen.
Last Thursday, Jansen and Bahr were recognized at the Warren County R-III School District School Board meeting. Jansen is in her ninth year employed as a school nurse in the district. A check for $1,800 was presented to Bahr representing the amount of money raised from T-shirt sales raising awareness about organ donation.
“It has been very humbling,” Jansen said of the support.While many consider Jansen’s kidney donation to be a selfless act, she has resisted the attention placed on her. Instead, she hopes more people consider organ donation in their future.
Currently, around 121,680 people are in need of an organ transplant in the United States, according to the organdonor.gov website.
It could be someone’s mom, maybe another Blake.
“I look forward to seeing Blake flourish,” Jansen said.
In a few weeks, once recovered, Jansen expects to resume her normal daily routine. She will return to her job as a school nurse at Rebecca Boone Elementary during the day, and be a wife and mother in the evening. Others, such as as Blake’s family, have a new title to add for her — hero.
“There are no words to describe the gratitude we feel for her,” Bahr said. “For six months, this has been an option. All the testing to go through, they don’t make it easy. To take the time for our little guy is unbelievable.”