A Teen’s Lofty Tribute to the Organ Donor Who Saved His Life

Catheter surgery medical team

On New Year’s Day 2022, Branden Dever will do what he has always dreamed of doing since he was a young child: ride atop a Rose Parade float. For the 16-year-old and his mom, Eden, it will be a victory ride to celebrate the organ donor who saved his life.

Braden Dever and parents wearing matching t-shirt

“My favorite T-shirt says, ‘The biggest hero I have never met is the organ donor who saved my son’s life.’ I can never say thank you enough to the donor’s family who gave Branden the greatest gift of all—a second chance at life,” says Eden Dever.

Branden never had many health issues growing up. Even when he was diagnosed with kidney disease in May 2020 and evaluated for kidney transplant in August 2020, he experienced fatigue, yet didn’t feel sick.

Branden had always had a few eye problems, but it was never anything too concerning. That all changed when he went for a routine eye exam and the doctor recommended that he see Edward Wood, MD, a retinal specialist at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health. Dr. Wood suspected retinal dystrophy and recommended Branden for genetic testing. 

“We found out that I had nephronophthisis, which affects not only eyes, but also kidneys,” says Branden. “It was so unexpected because I felt just fine.”

Nephronophthisis is caused by a few mutated or missing genes during fetal development. It can affect the eyes, kidneys, liver, nerves, brain, and skeleton, and it occurs in just 9 of every 8.3 million births in the United States.

Short wait for the promise of a new life

Things moved quickly after the San Jose, California, family learned the news. At Pediatric Nephrology at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, Branden’s doctors Paul Grimm, MD, and Cynthia Wong, MD, put him on peritoneal dialysis for end-stage kidney disease, which he completed at home every night for nine to 12 hours. Sometimes, the pain was almost unbearable. He was also immediately put on the kidney donor waitlist. It took just two months to receive the call that they had located a donor.

“I remember exactly what I was doing when I got the call. I was feeling a great deal of emotions—happy, excited, scared, nervous, hopeful … but most especially, grateful and blessed. But at the same time, my heart ached for the family who lost a loved one,” Eden says.

Eden was extremely relieved because it was hard watching Branden go through dialysis and witness his pain.

“I wish I could’ve changed places with him,” she adds. “His faith, strength, and love for life through all this—and his resilience to keep moving forward—makes him so much more special. He’s my one and only child, and I’m so proud of him.”

Amy Gallo, MD, surgical director of Pediatric Kidney Transplant, performed Branden’s transplant, which went as planned. Throughout his care journey, the family felt well cared for, not just medically but emotionally and spiritually as well.

“There was so much love, kindness, and compassion everywhere—from the nurses, doctors, social workers, and the entire transplant care team. We feel so fortunate to live near Stanford Medicine Children’s Health and to have had the chance for Branden to get the very best care possible,” Eden says.

It has been just about a year since Branden’s kidney transplant. He is feeling better, but he still gets tired sometimes, and he experiences challenges with his eyes. These setbacks don’t get in the way of his expressing pure gratitude for being alive, though.

“I’m much more aware that anything can happen in an instant, so I’m much more appreciative of life,” Branden says. “I’m so grateful to have a second chance.”

Flowers and floats to honor organ donors

The Rose Parade started at 8 a.m. in Pasadena on January 1 and traveled five-plus miles down Colorado Boulevard as it has for 130 years. The Dever family had always dreamed of attending the Rose Parade in person, and they were so excited to attend. They were joined by dozens of family members and friends to cheer on Branden. He, and 17 other donor recipients, rode atop the Donate Life float with organ donors walking alongside.

“I have always seen the floats and I’ve wondered how you get on one, and what it is like to be on top and see everything from that perspective. I’ve always wanted to do it, and now I have the chance,” Branden says. “It’s going to be such a unique and cool experience. I can’t wait!”

Gerri James, manager and pre-transplant coordinator of the Pediatric Kidney Transplant program, nominated Branden for the Donate Life float, which will have every inch covered in flowers. The float raises awareness of the lifesaving power of organ, eye, and tissue donation.

“When it came time to recommending a donor recipient, I immediately thought of Branden. He is an outstanding young man. He always came to clinic with a smile on his face and continues to be positive. I wanted to offer him this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says James.

Branden embodies this year’s Rose Parade theme: “Dream. Believe. Achieve.”   

“I had to dream that I would get better,” Branden says. “I had to believe in myself and the people at Stanford who helped me, and believe that a donor would come forward and give me a selfless gift.”

While Branden didn’t have an exact answer for the theme of ‘achieve,’ it’s clear to everyone who meets this charming, smart teen that he’s going to achieve a lot. He already has, by enduring hard news, going through a transplant, and coming out, literally, on top.  

Learn more about the Pediatric Kidney Transplant program >


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