Teenager’s Harrowing Health Crisis Ends Happily with New Kidney   

Teenager’s Harrowing Health Crisis Ends Happily with New Kidney


In many ways, Dominic Lipka is like any typical 16-year-old boy who loves playing video games, hanging out with friends and watching baseball. But it wasn’t that long ago the Keansburg, New Jersey, resident’s life was saved by steadfast, strategic efforts from pediatric kidney specialists at Hackensack Meridian Health.

Dominic plunged into sudden organ failure in spring 2020. The autoimmune disease lupus was stealthily destroying his kidneys. Dominic’s father, Joe Lipka, who adopted the boy as an infant, had no idea anything was amiss until his son grew pale and tests showed internal bleeding.

Doctors at K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital at Jersey Shore University Medical Center scrambled to save Dominic, pinpointing his diagnosis and placing him on lifesaving dialysis to filter his blood and stop the bleeding. “He was between life and death. Our first task was to save his life and the second was to save his kidneys,” says pediatric nephrologist Guillermo Hidalgo, M.D., who oversaw Dominic’s treatment. “We managed to save his life, but he couldn’t recover kidney function.”

The touch-and-go nature of Dominic’s 46-day hospital stay took a toll on father and son. “It was a nightmare,” Joe recalls. “I had to keep my composure for Dominic, but there were days I’d get in my car and cry.”

Lifesaving Transplant  

Even after he was discharged, Dominic’s health remained precarious. Home dialysis proved less disruptive than hospital-based treatments. But it was clear that Dominic required a kidney transplant.

“Getting a new kidney is the gold standard of care,” says Michael Goldstein, M.D., director of the Division of Organ Transplantation at Hackensack University Medical Center. “Once you develop renal failure, your overall lifespan can be dramatically shortened because of the damage it does to the body. A transplant is really lifesaving.”

Dominic was placed on a wait list for a deceased-donor organ, a process that can take years. Joe got a call in January 2022 that a donor kidney became available for Dominic, and Dr. Goldstein performed the transplant during a complication-free, three-hour surgery. The teenager’s new organ began working immediately, and he was able to go home within several days.

“Dominic and his father were warriors,” Dr. Hidalgo says. “They jumped all those hurdles, and we got them across.”    

New Goals

Months after his transplant, Dominic’s energy levels are near normal. He’s gaining height, weight and muscle mass. He gets frequent checkups and for the rest of his life will need anti-rejection medications, which also reduce inflammation that could also fuel his lupus.  

Long-term, doctors say Dominic will be able to live a normal life, though another kidney transplant will eventually be required. “Kidneys don’t last forever when they’re not yours,” Dr. Goldstein explains. “He will likely need a second transplant about 20 years from now.”

But Dominic is laser-focused on the here and now. He recently accomplished another teenage rite of passage when he applied for a part-time job. “I have to keep reminding myself he’s OK,” Joe says. “He has color on his face, a good appetite and he’s ready to play baseball. As a dad, I can’t be happier.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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