'HE'S A FIGHTER:' Aunt's gift will let 14-year-old return to school, play football
By BRIAN HAYDEN
LAWRENCEVILLE — At birth, Eric L. LaBrake Jr. wasn't given long to live.
Now, 14 years later, he is looking forward to attending St. Lawrence Central High School, Brasher Falls, and joining the football team. His family calls him "God's miracle child."
"He laughs, he talks, he dances all over the place," said Sharon A. Shorette Davis, Eric's grandmother. "He's a fighter. He's always been a fighter."
Thanks to a kidney donation from his aunt Amber L. LaBaff, Eric's future is now brighter than ever. But earlier this year, that future was still in question.
Eric was born with a posterior urethral valve, a disorder that rendered him unable to urinate and severely damaged his bladder and kidneys. A series of surgeries from birth onward allowed him to function with a catheter. But his family knew he would need a kidney transplant eventually.
In the last several months, the family was forced to pull Eric out of school as his condition deteriorated. He was on a diet of rice, noodles and chicken because of abnormally high potassium and phosphorus levels. Without a new kidney, he would have needed dialysis.
It was earlier this year that Ms. LaBaff stepped in to help. She donated one of her kidneys to Eric on April 28 in a dual surgery in Boston. As he makes a full recovery, his family wants to raise awareness on the importance of organ donation.
Once Ms. LaBaff discovered she was a match for Eric, she knew she had to donate. Her son, Corey A. Jock, died of a brain tumor in April 2009.
"I want him to be able to live the life my son wasn't able to," Ms. LaBaff said. "I did everything under the moon to save my son."
By donating to her nephew, Ms. LaBaff said, she was also helping Eric's mom, and her sister, Jamie L. LaBrake.
"I didn't want my sister to have to go through what I go through every day." Ms. LaBaff said.
But Ms. LaBaff said she did not think long about her donation. She signed up to be an organ donor when she was 17.
"I don't think I've done anything special," Ms. LaBaff said. "I did what I think most people would do."
The changes in Eric's life are remarkable, Mrs. LaBrake said.
"He's got so much energy now," she said. "People don't realize life is so precious. You expect your kids are going to be OK."
Eric said he was very grateful for his aunt's donation. Soon after waking up from the surgery, he was back to eating his favorite foods: pizza with extra cheese, chocolate milk and chocolate ice cream. He took a picture of that hospital meal with his cell phone, his family said.
He now has a compromised immune system and must avoid public spaces for the next several weeks, but is looking forward to returning to school and seeing his friends.
"I've got lots of energy," he said.
He encouraged others to think about becoming donors.
"You'll feel better for life," he said. "It'll change another person's life."