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Like in most families, the Collins kids have carved out their own niches, bloomed into separate personalities apart from each other.
There are the athletes; the funny baby brother who calls the shots most days; the lone sister who plays clarinet and writes poetry but can keep up with her brothers; and then there is the calm one, the thinker, the one who escapes into books and art.
“Savaughn is the coolest,” said his brother, Kaneil, 12, who prefers to play football over his brother’s hobby of sketching make-believe monsters and characters.
Savaughn Collins, 13, is so laid back his mother’s friends have given him a nickname. “They call him ‘Grandpa,’” mom Quibilah Barnes of Landover said.
On a recent autumn day, Savaughn, wearing a plaid shirt buttoned to the neck, exudes a quiet, cool demeanor while sitting with Barnes, his father, Lennard Collins, and stepmother, Crystal Moore, in the living room of their Waldorf home.
His maturity might come from facing more in his 13 years than most people do in a lifetime.
Born at Laurel Regional Hospital with kidney disease and lung problems, an infant Savaughn was swept away from his parents and placed in the neonatal intensive unit of Children’s National Medical Center.
It was a troubling time for Barnes.
“I didn’t get to bond with him,” she said. “I was there with him every day,” but she didn’t get the cuddle time, that mommy-baby period she had with his older brother, Detreich, and later with Kaneil.
There was fear of the unknown, too.
“As parents,” Barnes said, looking at Collins, “I thought it was going to be so difficult [to have a sick child]. Where were we going to get the strength?
“You need a support system,” Barnes continued. “A group of people, family, friends. You need that support and you have to stay positive.”
The family soldiered on. There was nothing else they could do. This was the hand they were dealt.
Barnes’ mother, Tanya, was always there, and Collins and Barnes believe her personality influences Savaughn’s laid-back vibe.
Savaughn underwent more surgeries than family members can tally, he was put on daily dialysis and medications, he endured long hospital stays at Children’s.
And life continued.
Collins married Moore, who brought along daughter, Ajanea, and a few years later, they had a son together, Jordan.
The family and the children are the most important thing to the adults in it.
The kids always would stay together, no matter what.
That means that all the grownups have to be on the same page.
“You have to communicate,” Barnes said.
“Communication is the biggest thing,” Collins agreed.
The only way Savaughn was going to get off grueling dialysis, get off the bland diet of food that tastes like “wet paper,” as he described it, was to get a kidney transplant.
His parents were asked if they had a preference of a living donor or a deceased one.
They didn’t care, they wanted, they needed, a kidney.
When Savaughn was 8, one became available.
“I was scared and excited,” he said, remembering how he felt being wheeled into the transplant surgery.
About a year later, they learned that Savaughn’s body was rejecting the kidney. It was a devastating blow.
“It crushed everybody,” Barnes said.
It meant going back to dialysis, hospital stays, a return to being on the transplant list, waiting for the call about a kidney being available.
On March 13, Barnes got the call.
A kidney was available.
“You have four hours to get there,” she said of hustling to Children’s. “No matter where you are in the world, you better get there.”
Just off from school, Savaughn grabbed his bookbag, hoping to get some homework done before surgery.
So far, so good.
Savaughn received a kidney from an organ donor who had died.
It is a gift that he is determined to take care of.
“This was a caring person, a very caring thing to do,” he said of the donor and the decision to donate so another person had a chance to live. “I made a promise that I would take care of it.”
The family are huge proponents of organ donation. The adults are organ donors, and most likely once they are of age, the kids will be too.
Savaughn faithfully takes his medications and is fine following a certain diet because his health depends on it and “I know I’ll get in trouble with these people,” he said, pointing to his parents and Moore, if he starts to slip.
But finally he gets to indulge in the occasional candy bar — stops at 7-Eleven are nirvana.
“‘Go pick something out,’” Collins tells him whenever they make a detour to the convenience store. “It’s chocolate all the time.”
Recently, Savaughn decided now that he is on the road to being a “normal kid” he wanted to help others.
“I know what they’re going through,” he said.
Moore did a quick search and found that Children’s was holding a fundraising 5K, Race for Every Child.
The family raised $1,000 in two weeks for the STARS team — Savaughn’s Team of Ambassadors Rallying to Support.
While they didn’t get to participate in the Oct. 5 event because of other obligations, the family likely will continue to give back.
Savaughn will make sure of it.
“I want to continue to help,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”