CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jacob Keefer has spent most of his life going in and out of the hospital.
“My medical condition is kidney disease and I’ve had it ever since the age of three,” Jacob says matter-of-factly.
When he was just 5 years old, he received his first kidney transplant. Two years later, Jacob developed post-transplant lymphoma, a rare form of cancer that sometimes develops in transplant patients.
“I think that was one of the hardest discussions I’ve ever had with somebody,” said Doctor Susan Massengill who is Jacob’s doctor. “I think we do a good job of preparing for the inevitability of what’s coming but you're never prepared for it."
Nevertheless, Jacob's positive attitude remained intact through every diagnosis.
“I've always had this attitude like my cards have been dealt to me,” says the teenager, “I’ve had a failed kidney but I’d rather be positive and be outgoing then be a negative person and be kind of a hermit from other people.”
Through all of the doctor appointments and trips to the hospital for chemotherapy, his mom Julie Wallace was there.
“Mom usually drives me. I usually just sit down and sleep and listen to music. It’s a good system we got going,” Jacob laughed.
“Jacob is a miracle and a survivor and that’s the best way to describe him,” says Wallace. “No mom wants to have their child suffer even for a minute."
When Jacob was 15, his first kidney began to fail. He needed another transplant.
"We've been very scared many times, but for the most part, we've been able to see the blessing," Wallace said.
This time, she was the blessing, as doctors determined that his own mother was his kidney match.
“Being an organ donor is mind-blowing,” Wallace said. “But it’s also scary, and there’s lots of fear. What if it doesn’t work? What if my kidney makes him even sicker?”
The transplant was a success, giving doctors reason to be optimistic.
"Our hope is this transplant will give him another five-to-10 years before he potentially needs another transplant,” she says.
Jacob will have to take medicine every day for the rest of his life. But he’s not worried about that right now. The high school graduate is headed to college to nurture a love that first developed while he was watching movies in the hospital.
“I found my heart in theater and acting and it’s a great way to get out all my frustrations in life," said Jacob, who is determined to use his illness to inspire others. “I’m not defined by my sickness. I’ve done everything that a regular teenager would do. I’ve gone to dances. I’ve had fun with my friends. I’ve been a normal kid."
Except for the fact that one of Jacob’s kidneys is from his mom.
“He’s something so much bigger than a kid with kidney disease and he can do anything he wants to do," Wallace said.
Jacob says Dr.Massengill has become like a second mom to him and his mom says she has become like a sister to her. Dr. Massengill even served as a mentor for his senior project: on the importance of maintaining a positive attitude while growing up with a chronic illness. She recently traveled to Asheville to see Jacob star in a school play.