Tee Off for Transplant

13-year-old Raith Wehner is in need of a life-saving kidney transplant. A golf tournament, Tee-Off For Transplant, will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at The Links in Teton Peaks in Driggs, Idaho to raise money for the procedure.

Last winter Raith Wehner needed to be driven from his home in Victor, Idaho, to Idaho Falls for dialysis, but a snowstorm had closed Highway 33 to Rexburg, Idaho, and the road over Pine Creek Pass.

Raith travels to Idaho Falls for dialysis three times a week because his kidneys have failed, so the procedure is critical to his health. Knowing that, his father, Tim Wehner, found a way to leave snowpacked Teton Valley: An Idaho Transportation Department plow driver led the way, clearing the highway and allowing Raith’s father to follow him.

Not every trip for dialysis is quite that dramatic, but the expense of driving to Idaho Falls three times a week — not to mention the time invested — adds up for Raith and his family. Raith is only 13, so his condition is rare and taxing for those who care about him.

“For dialysis, it’s always myself or my brother, his dad,” aunt Cristine Wehner said. “We split that time between the two of us.”

In May 2018 Raith began to show general symptoms of illness — lethargy, joint pain — that worsened with time.

At Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City doctors diagnosed him with granulomatosis with polyangiitis, which used to be called Wegener’s disease. The rare autoimmune disease usually affects adults and causes inflammation in blood vessels, particularly small ones like those found in some organs and joints.

After a couple of months of treatment, Raith went to Primary Children’s Hospital for a checkup, but doctors readmitted him with renal failure due to a second disease, atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome. The condition causes a buildup of blood clots, which restricted blood flow to his kidneys and kept the organs from processing bodily waste.

Many treatments later, the thrice-weekly dialysis seems to have allowed Raith some semblance of normality.

“He is a very kind boy who loves playing baseball, and he snowboards,” his aunt said. “He’s trying to live a normal kiddo life.”

Though insurance has covered some of his expenses, the kidney transplant Raith has been cleared for is expensive, as are the frequent drives out of Teton Valley for treatment. The Wehner family, which has spent an estimated $55,000 so far, has enlisted the help of the Childrens Organ Transplant Association to raise money to cover some of the cost of the transplant.

The association helps families raise money by making donations tax-deductible. As a 501(c)(3), it acts as a pass-through, moving funds from donors to the transplant provider. Wehner said the family is close to its long-term fundraising goal of $100,000. They hope a Saturday charity golf tournament will push it over the edge. If they meet the goal, the Transplant Association will throw in another $10,000.

The Wehners are set to host the golf tournament, barbecue and lawn game extravaganza at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Links at Teton Peaks in Driggs, Idaho. Slots for the tournament are sold out, but for $20 you can come at 2:30 p.m. for lawn games and food.

Individuals and organizations have donated prizes for a silent auction, and the Knotty Pine Supper Club and some family friends will have a spread ready.

With just over $15,000 left to raise as of Monday night, Raith’s family knows they have a long road ahead but sees a silver lining in the outpouring of love they have felt.

“We are so appreciative of the community members in Jackson and Teton Valley who have stepped up and helped out,” Wehner said. “We’re just overwhelmed by the support.” 

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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