By JENNIFER BERNSTEIN
7:47 PM EST, February 6, 2012
There are many ways a child can react to a parent falling seriously ill.
Fear and anxiety are typical. Anger isn't unusual.
But for one Griswold family, a life-threatening illness offered a young boy an unusual opportunity to take control and learn both skills -- and lessons -- beyond his years.
Tyler Sudol was 6 when he was told his mother’s kidneys were failing. Both of Cindy Sudol’s organs were only working at 10 percent. She was put on a transplant list, but with rare B-negative blood, the family was told the wait could be at least 2 to 3 years. As it turned out, it was much longer than that.
"It's a bit shocking at first to hear that all the sudden your kidney's aren't working when you felt perfectly fine," she said.
Cindy began grueling and painful dialysis treatments at home. She would hook herself up at night and stay on the machine until morning. After five years, she learned that her family could take a class on a different type of dialysis which would make treatment easier and less time consuming.
The family, including Tyler and his younger brother, Dylan, learned how to run the intricate machine. It enabled Cindy, and the family to choose when she'd get her treatments.
"We felt like we had our lives back," said her husband, Gary.
But Tyler took on a greater role when Gary found himself recovering from surgery of his own.
"We were panicking … what were we going to do for her care?," Gary said.
Tyler, who was 12 at the time, stepped up and said he thought he could do it. Soon he was prepping the machine, doing checks on it, and even pulling out two large needles from her arm. He ran the machine two-and-half hours a day, six days a week.
He also learned to clean and stitch an open wound in her arm, the result of more than a dozen surgeries she needed to keep her on dialysis while she waited for a kidney. He did this all while maintaining an "A" average in school, though he quit baseball and soccer to help with her care.
"It wasn't much," Tyler said. "I just wanted to feel like I was helping out."
During one of Cindy's surgeries, Tyler caught the eye of a Hartford Hospital transplant surgeon who was in charge of his mother's care. During visits, Dr. Matthew Brown explained what he was doing and was surprised to learn how much Tyler had taken on.
"He was doing things that I didn't think were possible for a boy his age," Brown said. "He wanted to help as much as he could."
The darkest moment came about a year ago, when Cindy suffered an episode of septic shock and almost died. Then -- a few days later -- a kidney became available. They'd waited seven years. Brown performed the transplant and Cindy is now doing well.
"I don't even know that I could ever thank him enough or do enough for either of our boys, to me it's just amazing," she said.
But for Tyler, his experience has had a lasting impact. The 14-year-old freshman at Griswold High School now has a clear goal -- to become a transplant surgeon, like Brown. He wants to build on the skills he learned and help others who face the kind of challenge his mother did.
"I like that," Tyler said. "He helps people."