A patient of Atrium Health Levine Children’s since birth, Mikey Howard has grown up with his nephrology care team. Diagnosed in-utero with a complex and rare kidney anomaly, Mikey’s chance for long-term survival was slim. His parents, Jennifer and Mike Howard, turned to Levine Children’s for his kidney care, where he’s received best-in-class treatments for his condition ever since. Today – more than 19 years, hundreds of nights spent at Levine Children’s, and two successful kidney transplants later – Mikey is thriving.
Early in Mikey’s treatment, Dr. Susan Massengill, director of the Levine Children’s Pediatric Nephrology Center of Excellence, and numerous subspecialists devised a plan to treat and mitigate the impact of Mike’s disease throughout his lifetime. “The Howards have shown unwavering confidence and support for the Pediatric Nephrology Division since we first met Mikey as a one-day-old infant,” shared Dr. Massengill. “Mikey embodies what it is to be a ‘KIDney Krusader’ – patient, strong, determined, fighter, courageous, adaptable and forever hopeful.”
In recognition of the lifesaving care Mikey has received at Levine Children’s, the Howard family recently donated $250,000 to benefit the Pediatric Nephrology Center of Excellence. Mikey and his mom recently sat down with Atrium Health Foundation to share more about the meaning behind their gift and their family’s journey at Levine Children’s:
Your family has known Dr. Massengill since Mikey was an infant. How has that close relationship impacted his time at Levine Children’s?
Jennifer: Establishing trust and keeping an open dialogue with your physician is paramount when raising a child with a chronic illness. Dr. Massengill has a unique approach that’s smart, holistic, collaborative and caring. She never does anything without thinking it through, and she cares about the entirety of her patients. It’s not uncommon for Dr. Massengill to spend extra time with Mikey in the clinic to ask about his grades or to ensure he knows his medications and doses. She really understands the challenges of living with chronic kidney disease. She treats the patients – not just the disease.
What major milestones has Mikey reached while at Levine Children’s?
Jennifer: We’ve experienced so many over the years, but it was a dream come true to transition from what used to be Carolinas Medical Center’s over-crowded pediatric floor to a full-fledged, state-of-the-art children’s hospital. Mikey was just five years old when Levine Children’s Hospital opened its doors in 2007, and he had just undergone his first kidney transplant [from his father]. Later, Mikey would receive a second kidney transplant from his uncle in 2015.
Certainly, our most celebrated moments have been discovering optimal donor matches within our own family and having two successful kidney transplants. To this day, our family celebrates May 7 and February 4 – the dates Mikey received his kidney transplants and was given back his life.
In what ways would you say Levine Children’s goes beyond for its patients? What have you personally experienced?
Jennifer: In 2008, our family was asked to speak at a press conference to kick off Morris Jenkins’ Special Recognition Program, which celebrates milestones for patients who are hospitalized, such as finishing treatment, celebrating a birthday, or a successful organ transplant. The announcement was made on the anniversary of Mikey’s first kidney transplant, so it was the first of hundreds of celebrations to come for patients achieving their own medical milestones at Levine Children’s Hospital. And on every patient floor, Levine Children’s Hospital has a family snack room and coffee station for parents and siblings of patients. We’re always grateful for those small thoughtful things that make our lives easier. When your child is sick, the last thing you’re thinking of is what or when you’re going to eat. The coffee station has fueled us many mornings when we’ve felt like we couldn’t leave his room. Plus, Mikey loves having Goldfish at the ready.
What are your hopes and dreams for years to come for Mikey as a result of Atrium Health’s ongoing support of his health?
Jennifer: This is a tough question to answer, as transitioning from pediatrics to adult care is an intimidating thought, since that’s right around the corner for Mikey. That said, whenever we’ve needed collaboration between physicians across Atrium Health, it’s always been seamless. Our hope is that Mikey continues to get the exceptional care he’s always received at Levine Children’s even as he transitions to Atrium Health’s physicians specialized in treating adults with kidney disease.
Mikey, please tell us a little about yourself.
Mikey: I’m 19, and I’m a Senior at Marvin Ridge High School. I wouldn’t say I have a favorite subject right now, but I Iike to sing in chorus. I really like sports, and my parents take me to all the Carolina Panthers home games. I’ve gone to some Hornets games too; I’m going to sit court-side at the Hornets vs. Lakers game with my uncle who gave me his kidney. I also enjoy working out at Lifetime Fitness in Waverly. I take guitar lessons, enjoy video games, and I currently work at AutoBell car wash.
Can you describe what it is like to be a patient at Levine Children’s?
Mikey: Even when I’ve been too sick to do much more than stay in my hospital bed, the Child Life team always makes me feel better by bringing me video games, and sometimes I go to the teen lounge and use the virtual reality headset, which is pretty cool. It’s especially good that there’s a Chick-fil-A in the hospital. They also keep Goldfish, my favorite snack, in the family rooms.
Growing up with a chronic kidney disease, did you experience things differently? Were you able to participate in things you wouldn’t have been due to your care at LCH?
Mikey: I have missed a lot of school over the years due to the many days I spent in the hospital, but I’ve had some unique experiences as a result. I think it’s cool when athletes and celebrities visit kids in the hospital. Everyone knows I’m a big Panthers fan, so I’ve been able to meet lots of the players over the years. Levine Children’s made that happen for me and many other patients. Greg Olsen invited me to spring training camp when I was about 10, where he took me around and introduced me to all the players, including Cam Newton and Steve Smith.
Why did your family decide to make this generous gift to Levine Children’s?
Jennifer: We’ve been serving on a committee that Dr. Massengill formed six years ago for Levine Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Nephrology Center of Excellence, so we have a solid understanding of her vision to advance research, perform clinical trials, identify best practices, improve outcomes for young patients, and share findings within the medical community. It has always been a hope, dream, and prayer of ours to do something meaningful that we know will make an impact on the lives of others who are fighting Mikey’s fight. We’ve always had the utmost trust and confidence in Dr. Massengill, and we want to help her pursue her passion and ultimately improve the way chronic kidney disease is treated. She’s extremely driven and we know she’ll put our gift to good use.
The Pediatric Nephrology Center of Excellence: Building the premier pediatric kidney care center in the Southeast
Ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the country’s top destinations for pediatric kidney care, Atrium Health’s Levine Children’s Hospital offers an expert team of doctors, nurses and around-the-clock specialists dedicated to getting your child back to good health. Atrium Health combines this nationally renowned expertise with Levine Children’s Hospital’s child-focused care and amenities to bring you care that’s both leading-edge and kid-friendly.
At Levine Children’s Hospital, we are also creating the Pediatric Nephrology Center of Excellence, which will expand our research, increase our education models, and re-write the standards of quality and care delivery for children with kidney disease. Use this link to support the Pediatric Nephrology Center of Excellence and help us provide world-class kidney care to children in the Southeast.