Nothing about Keith Powell’s life has been easy. From the time he was born just over two years ago, Keith has been fighting to do what most people are able to do without any problems – eat.
Keith, who lives in Sharon with his parents and two older siblings, was born with short bowel syndrome. He has just a few centimeters of small intestines and a small section of long intestines, so he cannot process nutrients.
“He has no immune system at all,” said his father, Jimmy Powell, who quit his job shortly after Keith was born to become a full-time stay-at-home dad.
Keith spent the first three months of his life in the hospital. Now, he lives at home, but his exposure to the outside world, even his own backyard, is limited to protect him from the germs that could prove deadly.
“Anything anyone else could catch, it’s 10 times worse for him,” Powell said.
Earlier this month, Keith spent days in the hospital with a fever of more than 105 degrees and a gall bladder infection that caused the organ to swell to more than three times larger than it should be. It was one of dozens of trips the Powell family has taken to Levine Children’s Hospital for 10 surgeries and treatment for countless infections and illnesses.
But because of the nurses and doctors at Levine, Keith should be able to have a potentially life-saving multi-organ transplant, Powell said. He gives much of the credit to pediatric surgeon Daniel Bambini, who, Powell said, told the family many months ago that he would do absolutely everything he could to get Keith to this point.
Keith is about to be placed on the transplant list; and then the waiting will begin. He needs new large and small intestines, a pancreas, liver and aorta, and it all needs to happen at the same time, Powell said. The family has to be within an hour of Rock Hill at all times, so they can catch a private jet to Cincinnati, Ohio, from the York County Airport. If the call comes in that organs are available, they have five hours to get him to the hospital in Cincinnati.
If Keith gets all five organs, and his body doesn’t reject them, he has an 85 percent chance of reaching the age of 5. If he gets to 5, he has a 65 percent chance of seeing the age of 10. If they can get him to 10, the odds of him living to adulthood are extremely high.
It could be years before a donor becomes available, and Keith might not have that kind of time. But Powell and his extended family and their supporters are planning for the transplant and for Keith’s recovery. They’re raising funds to build a “safe room” for Keith to recover in after the required months in Cincinnati.
“We’re building him a room, with HEPA filtration, the whole thing, where he can be safe until his immune system is strong enough to be out in the world,” Powell said.
But the cost of the room, about $10,000, is so large, the Powell family is seeking help to cover the costs through donations and fundraisers. They will host their biggest one so far at the Italian Island Grille and Pizzeria in Rock Hill on Saturday.
Keith, for his part, doesn’t seem to mind his life, however difficult it might sound to others. He’s a very happy, active toddler, Powell said, always laughing and running all over the place. He only cries if he’s really sick, if he falls down or if Powell tells him, “no.”
“He’s definitely a daddy’s boy,” Powell said, laughing. “He’s a handful.”