Few things excite Matthew Francis more than basketball and yesterday he was cleared to play his favorite sport after being sidelined by a genetic kidney disorder that resulted in a transplant this month.
The 14-year-old, who harbors hopes of playing again with friends and possibly professionally, is a standout not only because of his lofty height — 6-foot-3 — but also because of his role as a pioneering patient. Matthew is the first to undergo a kidney transplant in the Pediatric Kidney Transplant Program at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Lake Success. His surgery launched the program, doctors said yesterday.
Dr. Ernesto Molmenti, the surgeon who performed the teen’s operation on April 4, heartily endorsed the notion of Matthew taking to the court during a morning news briefing at the medical center.
“Matthew’s condition is excellent. He can do anything he likes — as long as he takes his medicine,” Molmenti, surgical director of the transplant program, said, referring to potent anti-rejection drugs. The medications, which must be taken religiously, prevent the boy’s immune system from assaulting the new organ.
“I am happy that I got this kidney and that I can play basketball again,” Matthew, of Far Rockaway, Queens, said in a soft voice.
To demonstrate how strongly medical team members feel about a young transplant patient resuming his favorite sport, they invited former Knicks shooting guard John Starks to surprise — and inspire — the up-and-coming player.
Starks gave the youngster an autographed gold-colored, regulation-size basketball as a gift — and symbol of a new beginning.
“When I was 14, I was like 5-foot-5,” Starks said, marveling at the boy’s height. The teen and the pro stand eye to eye. Starks offered advice and encouragement, counseling the young novice to take note of how other players approach the game.
Matthew’s resumption of his favorite sport arrives after years of physical challenges caused by a rare kidney condition, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS for short, diagnosed in 2012 when he was 9.
Dr. Pamela Singer, medical director of Cohen’s pediatric transplant center, described the condition, which can have many different causes, including genetic as in Matthew’s case. The disorder attacks the organs’ tiny filtering units — the glomeruli — producing scarring.
The kidneys are twin, purplish organs in the upper abdominal area whose role is to flush excess fluid and waste from the body.
Matthew’s mom, Jennifer Francis, a licensed practical nurse at Flushing Hospital in Queens, also has the disorder and is undergoing kidney dialysis as she awaits a kidney transplant. She was overjoyed that the surgery transformed her son’s life.
“I am so thankful,” Jennifer Francis said. “I want to thank the donor family, otherwise we would not be here at all.”