Editor’s Note

To celebrate 10 years of local journalism, Richland Source is revisiting some of its previous coverage and updating the community on the stories we’ve told. In this article, we revisit the story of Brielle Trice and her kidney donor, Tim Hilterman. 

p.s. Join us this Saturday for SourceFest, a free block party we’re throwing in celebration of a decade in local news. Click here to RSVP. 

MANSFIELD — On the outside, Tim Hilterman and Brielle Trice couldn’t be more different. 

Hilterman is a 43-year-old investment advisor from Lexington. Brielle is a 12-year-old girl who’s about to go into seventh grade at Highland Middle School. 

Hilterman is a marathon runner and father of four. Brielle loves to sing and dance, and has recently discovered that art is her favorite subject in school. 

But on the inside, Hilterman and Brielle share one important thing: A kidney. 

On July 1, 2015, Hilterman donated one of his kidneys to Brielle, who at 11 months old was diagnosed with Stage IV Wilms tumor, a cancer targeting her kidneys.

Both of Brielle’s kidneys were removed a couple months after her initial diagnosis, and she was on dialysis until the age of 4, when she received a new kidney from Hilterman. 

Now, eight years after Brielle’s transplant surgery, both she and Hilterman enjoy relatively normal lives. 

“It’s a lifesaving procedure, and in the end, it didn’t affect Tim a whole lot but it affected everything for her,” said Brielle’s mother Alyssa Cichon. “We’re not worried about anything happening to her right now.”

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the kidney is the most commonly transplanted organ from a living donor. In 2022, more than 6,400 transplants were made possible by living donors. 

In Ohio, most living kidney donations are facilitated through The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. At any given time, about 700 patients in Ohio State’s transplant program are awaiting a kidney transplant. 

Hilterman’s surgery took place on a Wednesday, and he was discharged from the hospital the following Friday. A week later he was entirely off medications, and two weeks later he started back to work. 

“From my perspective I thank the Lord, because once the recovery was done I was back to normal. The only thing I can’t do now is take ibuprofen,” Hilterman said with a laugh.

Unfortunately, Brielle’s recovery was a little more intense. Cichon said what was supposed to be a weeklong recovery period turned into a month in the hospital. 

“There was one thing after the next,” she said. “Since then though, knock on wood, we’ve had very few issues, she’s done really well.”

The height of the COVID-19 pandemic was another anxious time for Cichon and Brielle. Organ transplant recipients are among the population at an increased risk for a severe infection of COVID-19. 

“We stopped going anywhere for a long time, we were very scared,” Cichon said. “There were a lot of transplant kids who ended up in the hospital, but she was very lucky.” 

Fortunately, Brielle doesn’t remember much about her time in the hospital as a young child. But one memory that stuck with her was the many, many finger pricks she had to endure. 

“When she was in the hospital they pricked her finger so many times,so to this day any time she’s in there she tells them no finger pricks, just go through the arm,” Cichon said. 

Long-term, it’s hard to predict what might happen to Brielle’s new kidney. Cichon said medical science for artificial kidneys is rapidly advancing, and in the meantime, she will attend regular doctor’s appointments and monitor the kidney for the rest of her life. 

“(Kidney transplants) don’t last forever; I know of people who’ve gone 20 years strong and others who’ve had multiple,” she said. “But we’ve been very lucky, we’re not worried about hers right now.” 

Brielle’s favorite movie right now is the new release of “The Little Mermaid,” starring Halle Bailey. She said she’s been singing all the songs.

“Everybody thinks that she had her red hair, but I think it looked orange under the water,” she proclaimed. 

Life now is about celebrating the little victories. For example, before her transplant, Brielle was getting all her nourishment via a feeding tube. Now, her favorite food is ribs. 

Hilterman has celebrated his own victories since the transplant surgery. He ran the Chicago Marathon in 2017, and completed an Ironman Triathlon in 2019. 

The two families no longer live near each other, but keep in touch via Facebook. Hilterman still attends Westwood Alliance Church in Ontario, where he first met Brielle and her family. 

In 2015, Hilterman said his decision to donate a kidney came easy, mostly because of his faith. Eight years later, he is still guided by those same principles. 

“My perspective is, every good thing that we have comes from the Lord,” he said. “And because of that we need to be on the lookout for helping people and sharing what He’s given us with other people — time, and money…and kidneys.

“I mean, He gives you an extra one.” 

The Life & Culture section is brought to you by Knox Community Hospital.

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