Twenty-seven-year-old Cody Phillips wipes tears from his eyes when he describes the life of his 13-year-old brother, Carter. Until recently, Carter was spending three days a week at the dialysis clinic, because his kidneys shut down a year ago and had to be surgically removed. The way Cody sees it, his brother is a smart kid who doesn’t deserve what life has handed to him.
Carter has been diagnosed with Froelich’s Syndrome, a medical condition involving endocrine abnormalities, especially in the hypothalamus (a section of the brain responsible for hormone production). This syndrome mostly affects males, and it is typically diagnosed during puberty. Carter has been sick for most of his life and is homeschooled because of his abnormal schedule. When Carter was one year old, he was badly burned. Cody believes that this event may have triggered his brother’s health conditions, because while there is no one direct cause, trauma can cause an onset of Froelich’s Syndrome.
When Cody tested positive as a kidney match for Carter, he knew this was his chance to save his little brother’s life. Carter has been on the transplant list for many months, but the good fortune of having his big brother as a match meant that he wouldn’t have to wait any longer. Cody says that he always felt that he would be a donor for Carter, even before he was tested. He felt certain that this was meant to be.
The timing of the operation also seemed to perfectly coincide with Cody’s schedule, as his employer allowed him to take some time off over the holidays to give his brother this lifesaving gift. Cody also felt fortunate that at this point in his life, he does not yet have a family or other obligations that would prohibit him from taking several weeks off for the operation.
Carter and Cody’s family spent the holidays away from their home in Pensacola at the Tampa Ronald McDonald House while the brothers recovered from surgery. Recuperation has been easier for Carter than for Cody, who has been experiencing nausea from his medication in addition to the discomfort from the surgery. Seeing his brother improve makes all the pain and soreness worth it, though.
Time spent in reflection has made Cody realize that this has happened for a reason. He currently works in sales and is trying to decide what to do with his life. Engineering is his first choice, and with a renewed sense of purpose he hopes to return to school to complete his degree. He repeatedly comments on how lucky he is to have his health, when his younger brother has always been so ill.
Cody admits that he and Carter aren’t really that close, but he doesn’t think that matters in a situation like this: “He’s my brother and I love him. Family is everything.”
Cody has been working closely with the transplant team, who have become like family to him. They walked him through each step of the process and gave him their personal cell numbers to call. Building relationships with the team has been therapeutic for Cody; he says it was an unexpected part of the process for which he is now very grateful.
Cody spent several weeks at the Ronald McDonald House taking it easy while his family was next door at Tampa General Hospital seeing to Carter’s post-operation needs . The volunteers and staff embraced Cody, and he was surprised at the comfort and level of care he received at the House. His mother Erica says that Cody usually feels blue around the holidays, but this year at RMH he experienced so much love and kindness that he actually enjoyed the season. He also appreciated the gifts distributed to each resident family on Christmas morning, remarking on how generous the Tampa Bay community is to RMH families.
The family hopes to begin volunteering their time at the Ronald McDonald House in Pensacola, and Cody is eager to give back to other families going through difficult times. This experience has given Cody a new perspective, and he is enthusiastic about recovering and getting on with his life. He knows that he will return to Tampa General Hospital for one or turn follow-up visits, and he looks forward to coming back to the community that has made him feel so at home.