At 11 years old Dakota Watson has had more to worry about than most people in lifetimes many times longer.
The fact that he goes through life as if he doesn’t have a care in the world is something that should make everyone take a breath the next time they complain.
He was born with one working kidney and by the time he was 2 days old, he was undergoing his second surgery. Since then, he has been to the operating room 23 more times. Again – he is 11 years old.
“I don’t like to tell people about my being sick,” he says. “It’s not that I hide it. If someone asks me something, I’ll tell them. But if they don’t ask, they won’t hear it from me. It’s easier that it’s my kidneys because unlike some other organs failing that people can notice the difference, the only thing about my kidneys failing that people may notice is how tired I can get.
“Really no one might notice that I’m living a normal life while inside my kidneys are screaming.”
Since his infancy – something his mother says she didn’t think he would live beyond – he has battled back, overcoming whatever obstacles his body has thrown against him. He has watched as his one working kidney has become less and less efficient.
“I know one day it will stop working and there will be dialysis and I will need a transplant,” he says. “I can’t control that. I just have to keep living and enjoying as much as possible.”
One of things that makes that easier is his awareness that as tough as he has things, there are people who have it even worse than him.
“There’s this girl, she’s a year older than me and she has to be schooled at home because she has trouble with her kidneys and her heart,” he says. “I have problems but I get to go to school. What I have stops me from some stuff but I’m starting middle school next week.”
His kidneys have limited his ability to engage in physical activities like sports.
“I would love to be playing sports but I get very tired very easily,” he says.
So he looks for other things to fill the days – reading, music, television, rabbits.
“I love my rabbits,” he says. “They are calm, they make me feel calm. They bring me so much peace.”
And, to a certain degree, fame and money. At least in the world of 4H clubs.
Dakota has been raising rabbits – he thinks he probably has about 50 of them right now – for several years and showing them at fairs.
He does such a good job that he’s been asked to mentor others, help them along. He’s also been winning not just ribbons – but cash.
And that gave him an idea.
“There’s a group – the Northwest Kidney Kids – and they run camps for kids on dialysis and kids who are so sick that dialysis won’t help,” he says. “And it costs about a hundred dollars for each kid. And a lot of families can’t even afford that.
“So I decided that whatever money I won would go to that group.”
After a recent fair, he ended up with nearly $1,000.
“I wanted it to be $1,000 so I added some of my own money,” he says, humble enough that he doesn’t seem to get that the money he won was also his money.
Because of Dakota, 10 kids will get a chance they wouldn’t have otherwise had.
“It’s important that you do what you can to help others,” he says. “There’s lots of people who help me with things and it’s just the right thing to do.”
Dakota says that he’s not done giving.
“It feels good to help others and I want to keep at it,” he says. “I plan to keep giving.”