Source: Ashbury Park Press

WALL — Watching 5-year-old Kiley Hubbard tooling around her yard on her battery-powered toy ATV, a tuft of black hair poking out from under her pink helmet, you'd be hard-pressed to know the 36-pound waif has looked death square in the eye and sent him packing. Three times.

And walking through her backyard with her lifelong friend and former speech therapist Donna Kuchinski, Kiley betrays little evidence of a life spent more frequently in hospitals than out, of nearly six years of hours-long dialysis treatments occurring three- sometimes four times a week, and of the myriad pokes and prods and tests and medicines that have gone along with her condition.

Kiley Hubbard was born without kidneys. She is just weeks shy of her sixth birthday, and she has survived predictions. But until late March, Kiley's life was on hold, postponed until a suitable kidney donor could be found. And just when Kiley's body began to give out from the strain of all that dialysis, one was.

And today, on Mother's Day, while flower shops boom and restaurants bloat with families marking a day for Mom, the Hubbard family plans to spend the day at home, quietly appreciative of their time together, Kiley's mom, Tina Hubbard, said.

"That's what it's all about, isn't it?" Tina Hubbard said.

It was a long shot, Tina Hubbard said, that anyone would be a perfect kidney match for her daughter. The phalanx of physicians attending to Kiley put a number to it: 1 to 2 percent of anyone who was able to donate would be a match, she said. In other words, almost no one cleared to donate actually could.

Kiley's a complicated case, in part because of a failed transplant she had in 2005. Mark Hubbard, Kiley's father, donated his kidney, but there were complications involving then-unknown abnormalities in Kiley's anatomy that prevented the transplant, despite 16 hours of trying. Tina Hubbard is not a match for her daughter.

Dialysis was the only option. Two and a half hours, three times a week.

"Dialysis is no way of life," Hubbard said. "It's a temporary solution — something you do while you wait for a transplant. It's not meant to be permanent."

Benefits were held for the family. There were blood drives, fliers, newspaper articles, television news stories — all aimed at putting the word out in hopes of reaching just the right ears, snagging just the right donor, Hubbard said.

The efforts were not in vain. People came forward — strangers who had never met Kiley, offering to go under the knife to remove a kidney so a little girl could live. To them, a dozen people in all, Tina Hubbard says she owes a deep debt of gratitude. But ultimately, none was a match.

"You keep hoping there's a light at the end of the tunnel," Hubbard said. "And you keep doing what you have to do to get there."

A year passed. Then two. Dialysis continued. Kiley got sicker.

"I would have paid the devil to get her a donor," Tina Hubbard said.

She didn't have to.

Donna Kuchinski, 50, had been Kiley's speech therapist. She visited the Hubbard home regularly and became close to Kiley and the Hubbard family.

"I just fell in love with her," Kuchinski said of Kiley.

It happened right away, Kuchinski said, and just months after meeting Kiley in 2007, she began the process to become a donor. That process is not revealed to the potential recipient until much later, so the Hubbards were unaware Kuchinski had begun testing.

"It just felt like something that I should do," said Kuchinski, also of Wall. "And I was thrilled to do it."

She was a match. But for a variety of technical reasons, she was not the ideal candidate, Hubbard said. The search for a better candidate continued until last year, when Kiley's health began deteriorating.

That's when Hubbard learned about Kuchinski.

"There was a 1- to 2-percent chance, and here she walked right through our door," Tina Hubbard said.

The surgery was completed in March. And although for at least the next five months Kiley runs the risk of her body rejecting the kidney, the prognosis for the first time in her young life is good, Hubbard said.

Kiley, like her healthy twin sister Kimberly, will go to school. She'll get to go swimming and most all the things that healthy kids get to do, Hubbard said. She will be unable to play contact sports and will have to watch her sodium intake, however.

"Those are the only restrictions she'll have in life," Hubbard said. "Now, any tears I cry are tears of gratitude."