In the United States alone, 350 young children are waiting for liver transplants. Donors, especially for infants, are difficult to come by. Many become severely ill or die while waiting. A newly perfected procedure may offer hope for some of these babies, reports CBS This Morning Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.
Anthony Nicolakis is almost a year old, though he looks younger. His mother Anne says, "Developmentally, he's way behind -- way, way behind."
Anthony was born with a rare birth defect called gastroschisis, a condition where the intestines and liver develop on the outside of the body. Surgery corrected the problem, but little Anthony later developed liver damage. As he got sicker, doctors told his mother that he would need a liver transplant to survive.
Anne recalls: "You think, 'Why me? I can't believe this is happening to me.' Not even why you, 'why the poor baby?' He's so little, and it was rough."
With no compatible infant livers available, doctors told Anne that she could donate part of her liver to Anthony. In a procedure called a living donor transplant, doctors remove the lower left part of the liver from an adult and transplant it into a baby. Without the surgery, Anne explained, "his chances of making it are zero percent."
Just three months ago, Thomas Kelly's parents were also told their son needed a liver transplant to survive. His mother, Meghan Kelly, says, "It was just heartbreaking. I can't even describe how it felt because it broke my heart. Because you're thinking, 'What are we going to do? How do you get him a new liver?' You hear of kids dying all the time while they are waiting."
Thomas' liver was failing. He was suffering from a rare disorder called biliary atresia. Dr. Jean Emond of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center was Thomas' doctor: "When the liver is failing, the patient builds up with poison. Their skin turns yellow, they swell up with water and all these things were starting to happen to Thomas."
Thomas had a "living donor" transplant, with Mom Meghan serving as the donor. A month later, he's thriving.
"It's a miracle," says Meghan. "The difference is just so huge, you can't even explain it. He smiles all the time. He plays with his feet and his hands."
For Anthony, there was little time left to get a new liver. On his first birthday, his mother, Anne, was in the operating room. In an eight-hour operation, Dr. Emond gave Anthony a chance to survive.
Today, Anthony is out of the intensive care unit. He's alert, and his color is returning to normal.
The next three months will be crucial in his recovery. The key thing now for Anthony is that his body not reject his new liver. That's a concern for any transplant patient. He is taking anti-rejection medication.
This procedure is ten years old, lthough doctors are just perfecting it now. The last five years have seen major advances in this surgical technique, which was the major hurdle to overcome.
If all goes as planned, the mothers' livers will regenerate, and their children's new livers will grow with them.
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