James Caruso's Story

James Caruso's Story, Member of Team James, Detroit Zoo Kidney Walk

In many ways, James Caruso is a typical second grade boy. James loves playing in the pool, playing baseball, and practicing karate. His favorite subject in school is math because he likes “subtracting and plus-ing.”  What many don’t realize by looking at him, though, is that James has been through a lot in his seven years of life, starting when he was born without a right kidney and with only 20% kidney function in his left kidney.

When James’ mother, Traci Caruso, was pregnant with him, doctors were unable to find his right kidney. What they found out during that hospital stay, his mother explains, was James had three main renal problems.

“They found out that he didn’t have a right kidney at all. His left kidney was present, but only one third of it was healthy and he had a grade 4 reflux on his left ureter,” says Traci. “At 4 days old, the medical staff took care of him. They released him after 8 days, and by medicines and diet, his kidney function improved.”

After surgery and testing, James’ kidney function has fluctuated from 30% to nearly 50%, to its current level of 48% where it has stabilized. However, this progress has not come easily, as James has had to work hard and make sacrifices in order to maintain his kidney health. Though he’s now off of a restrictive diet and 7 of the 9 medications he was on, James and his family make a trip to the hospital once a month for routine blood work where James receives what he calls a “slide-in.”

“He calls it a ‘slide in’ because ever since he was a baby, I held him and he watched the needle go in. He says ‘Ok, I’m ready for my slide in,’” explains Traci.

Though getting blood work done was a struggle at first, James has become used to it.

“We've come a long way from 5 of us holding down his little kicking strong body,” Traci says. “Now, we are kind of just waiting.”

It is clear that James will need a kidney transplant at some time because his kidney won’t be able to sustain his weight as he grows, but it is uncertain exactly when the transplant will be needed.

“They weren’t sure his kidney would make it till 2, then 5, then 7,” says Traci, “Hopefully, he can hold it till 10 or longer.”

Until then, James is living the most normal life that he can, with some adjustments to ensure his kidney isn’t damaged any further.  He is not allowed to play contact sports, and says it can be hard for him when the other boys are playing soccer and football at recess. He also has to wear a kidney belt—a large, hard belt that goes around his rib cage to protect his kidneys–if he wants to ride his bike. Other than these limitations, James continues to go to school and live the life of a typical second grader.

The Caruso family has been involved with the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan (NKFM) for about 6 years now, since James was 1 year old. One event that the family participates in is the Kidney Walk at the Detroit Zoo, one of the NKFM’s largest fundraising events and the largest of 6 Kidney Walks held every spring at the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak. The Carusos’ fundraising team, “Team James,” is comprised of the Caruso family and their friends. More than 4,000 people attend the event each year to raise money for the NKFM’s prevention programs and patient services. The Kidney Walk at the Detroit Zoo features tons of exciting and fun children’s activities from Radio Disney and others, a raffle, a celebration of teams, and a fun-filled day at the Zoo. What James enjoys most about being a part of the Zoo Walk is the temporary tattoos, face painting, and seeing the animals, he says.

The Caruso family remains optimistic about James’ condition and the obstacles that they will have to face in the future.

“We are fortunate to have such a wonderful little boy with such a great attitude and outlook,” Traci says. “He’s a fighter and we know the future will be bright wherever our path takes us.”