Indiana teen helps conduct train before kidney transplant

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) – He doesn’t have his driver’s license yet, but Noah Mikel stopped traffic Jan. 25 when he helped conduct a train through Kokomo.

Mikel, a 16-year-old student from Northwood High School in Nappanee, can’t remember when he started loving trains, but he knows it was long before he started kidney dialysis seven years ago.

His kidney problems stretch back to when he was an infant; he had his first transplant at 3 years old, and on Feb. 1, he’ll have his second. But before the surgery, a few Kokomo train enthusiasts wanted to make sure he had the ride of his life.

Brad Ortman with Kokomo Grain heard about Mikel through a train engineer who had met Mikel at an apple festival. Mikel wasn’t as interested in the apples as he was the men manning the train tracks. Mikel shared his story with them, and it traveled back to Ortman, who knew he wanted to do something special for Mikel.

Kokomo Grain owns a few train cars to haul grain through the state, and Ortman used one to take Mikel on a ride through town. He organized the trip with two members of his crew, Engineer Danny Inskeep and Conductor Ethan Struwe.

Jim Thomas, a local train enthusiast and owner of the Central Indiana Yard Masters train club in Kokomo, met with Mikel before the ride. Thomas presented him with a custom, hand-painted model train. He also encouraged Mikel to visit his train shop, saying Mikel could run the model trains.

Mikel said he was grateful for the chance to ride on the train. He’d been on passenger trains before, but never cargo trains, and this was his first time being in the front with the engineer and the conductor.

The morning of the train ride, Mikel had a dialysis session at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, where he travels three times a week for treatment. His father, Lee Mikel, works every other day in order to take Noah to the hospital.

It’s a trip they’ve made for seven years, but after Feb. 1, Noah will be done with dialysis, hopefully for the rest of his life.

Lee found a kidney donor through the hospital, though he and his son haven’t met the donor yet; Lee said they plan to meet her soon. He’s been looking for a donor for a while. On his car, he has a picture of his son, his phone number and a plea for a donor matching Noah’s B+ blood type.

For Noah, the transplant will be one of the most freeing experiences of his life.

“I’ll get to start my life back again,” he said.

With dialysis, Noah can only drink about two water bottles worth of water each day, and he has to stay away from anything too salty. He’s looking forward to being able to drink just about anything he wants, though he’ll have to start drinking closer to 2 liters worth of fluids a day.

“I’m sick and tired of this dialysis,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”

And starting next semester, he’ll be able to attend school full-time. Currently, he attends on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and even after the transplant he’ll need to take it easy for several weeks to avoid infection, Lee said.

He’s looking forward to getting into a normal routine, he said. He hopes to travel to Florida over the summer with his uncle, and he hopes to get his driver’s license soon, though he said he’s a terrible driver.

Although he won’t have to travel to Riley much after the surgery, he said he plans to keep in contact with some of the other children he met during dialysis, as well as his nurses.

“It becomes like a family,” Lee said.

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