Over Memorial Day weekend in 2018, 11-year-old Callie was enjoying a day at the lake when sharp pains started in her side. She approached her mom, Sunshine, who asked how bad they hurt. On a scale from 1-10 they were a six. The pain quickly resolved, so Callie went back to playing and looking forward to a summer filled with camps, sports and outdoor fun.
The next morning, Sunshine says her daughter woke her with this alarming statement: "Mommy, I feel like I am dying." They went to the hospital near their hometown of Red Oak, Texas, where imaging tests showed that Callie had developed a kidney stone.
"After that ER visit, every time the pain hit her she would throw up," Sunshine says. "We quickly learned that the pain from a kidney stone is so excruciating it literally makes you sick."
What is a kidney stone?
When the concentration of minerals is high in the urine, a stone can form. There are many simple causes, like drinking too little water or eating too much salt, or more complicated factors like a blockage or genetic predisposition.
In describing a kidney stone, Linda Baker, M.D., Director of the Comprehensive Stone Clinic at Children's Health℠, oftentimes tells patients like Callie to imagine seawater evaporating and leaving salt crystals behind. Unlike a lovely sandy beach, these salt crystals cause pain.
Callie's surgeon, Micah Jacobs, M.D., a board-certified pediatric urologist and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern, cares for children who experience a stone for the first time, as well as children with a family history or recurring stones due to a genetic condition called cystinuria.
How common are kidney stones in children?
Doctors and researchers have noticed a rise in the occurrence of kidney stones in children and are investigating potential causes. Sunshine notes that Callie's great grandmother had a kidney stone recently, but she can't trace the condition back to anybody else in her family. It is unusual for a child to have a kidney stone, but it is becoming more frequent, especially in the South – the stone belt – where the warmer climate may lead to dehydration. See tips to stay hydrated here.
After Callie's diagnosis, she attended a Girl Scout Twilight Camp every evening for a few hours, with mom nearby in case she had another painful episode. She managed the pain with over-the-counter pain relievers and drank plenty of water and little to no soda or acidic juice.
Until a stone passes on its own or is removed surgically, the affected ureter (tube) that connects the bladder with the kidney will remain partially blocked and cause the kidney to swell. This is what causes the pain.
"For Callie, the stone was not passing on its own and required surgery to remove," Dr. Jacobs says.
Though returning to the hospital for a procedure made Callie a little nervous, Dr. Jacobs allayed her fears, describing the procedure in kid-friendly language: "The first time we go in, it will be to place a stent the size of a spaghetti noodle. Then, two weeks later, we will pull it out."
The process for Callie's surgery was typical of stone removal. She sailed through the surgery in July, recovered well and was able to enjoy the rest of her summer on the lake, making slime and hanging out with friends.
Thanks to the pediatric urologists at Children's Health, when Callie starts 6th grade in the fall, she will be able to focus on attending Girl Scouts, learning a new instrument and studying Pre-AP science rather than the pain of a kidney stone.
The comprehensive stone clinic at Children's Health brings together pediatric urologists, nephrologists, dietitians and nurses to care for all of a child's needs. Please contact us at 214-456-2444 to learn more.
Have you or someone you know experienced one or more kidney stones? A nationwide study is enrolling for children and adults with kidney stones. UT Southwestern and Children's Health are leading efforts here in Dallas-Fort Worth. Parents of children 12 and over, please call 214-456-0279 or visit the study website.