Each year, thousands of children, from babies to teenagers, need a liver transplant. Just as in adults, many of these organs come from a deceased donor. But the wait for a new liver can be long.
One out of five infants and one out of ten children die every year waiting for a liver. But now, new breakthroughs are helping more children get the lifesaving liver they so desperately need.
Centeria Barron is taking it one lunge, one toe touch, and one squat at a time. She was just eight years old when she needed a liver transplant.
“At times when I look at my scar, I’m like, I got another person’s liver in me,” shared Barron.
The surgeon who gave her that liver has performed more than 500 pediatric liver transplants. Thomas Hefforn was on the first team in the country to perform a living donor liver transplant in a child using just a sliver of her mother’s liver to save the little girl’s life.
“I have seen a lot of change and it’s gotten better,” explained Dr. Hefforn, pediatric liver surgeon at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children.
Now he’s perfecting transplants between a living donor and recipient who are not a match.
“People don’t mount antibodies against the wrong blood type in the liver,” elaborated Dr. Hefforn.
They believe the younger the child has the transplant, the more likely their body will recognize the organ as its own.
“Our goal is to really give that child the ability to live a completely normal life,” illustrated Amber Hildreth, DO, pediatric transplant hepatologist at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children.
And that’s exactly what Claire Skinner is hoping for. At just two months old, her liver and kidney shut down.
“She needed to get big enough to be able to get two organs inside her belly,” recalled Claire’s mom, Natalie Skinner.
At two, Claire received her transplants.
“I don’t really know life differently,” Claire shared.
She takes ten pills a day. Getting that number down would be life changing for her and for people like Centeria.
“I want to help other kids who have transplants, then when they have to go out in the real world and become teenagers, it’s a whole different ball game,” expressed Barron.
New protocols are also being put into effect this year. Previously, if a child died, and their parents donated their liver, that liver would not necessarily go to another child.
Now, a new rule has been passed that if a child dies, their liver is offered nationwide to pediatric patients waiting for a liver before going to an adult on the liver transplant waiting list.