A police officer’s job is all about action and reaction.
“We see something, react to it and, typically, it’s over quickly,” says Lt. Steve Tenney of the Keene, New Hampshire, Police Department.
But on the morning of Sept. 8, while Steve lay in a hospital bed at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts, action/reaction wasn’t part of the equation. This time, there was time to think. Even so, the decision to donate a piece of his liver to save Sloan — a baby he’d never even met — was made without hesitation.
“I did what anyone would have done,” he says.
When Sloan St. James was born, she arrived smiling. In the months that followed, her parents Sarah and Chris described her as a happy and healthy baby. “She was eating, sleeping and hitting all her developmental milestones,” Sarah says. “The only thing we noticed was that she was jaundiced and started getting what we called a ‘Buddha belly.’”
Sarah decided to schedule a wellness check, even though Sloan’s four-month checkup was a month way. “The doctor took one look at her and told us, ‘Take her to the hospital.’”
Sloan’s parents wasted no time. They drove straight from their home in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, to Boston Children’s Hospital, where Sloan was admitted and diagnosed with biliary atresia.
Biliary atresia is a rare disease of the liver and bile ducts. The common bile duct is blocked or damaged, making it impossible for bile to flow through it, eventually leading to liver failure. “We were blindsided,” Sarah says. “I couldn’t even read about it, because all you see is ‘life threatening.’”
The St. Jameses spent two weeks at Boston Children’s, during which time Sloan was stabilized and placed on the waiting list for a liver transplant. “We left thinking we would be waiting for a few months or maybe even a half a year,” says Chris. “But we ended up home for less than a week.”
Sloan’s liver had begun to shut down.
“Dr. [Christine] Lee came in and told us her liver had stopped responding to treatment and that she needed to be transplanted in one to two weeks,” Sarah says. “The Liver Transplant team booked an OR [operating room] for September 8, but we didn’t have a donor. I get the goosebumps just talking about it.”
Finding a living donor
Time was running out. Sloan was on the waiting list, but there was no guarantee a liver would become available. Neither Sarah nor Chris were a match for Sloan’s type-O blood, but the brother of a close friend was. And unbeknownst to the St. Jameses, Steve Tenney was already in the final stages of the evaluation and approval process.
“When we were told they were expediting the workup for a living donor, we had no idea it was him.”
Forty-eight hours after Steve was approved to become Sloan’s living donor, the medical team at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, Boston Children’s adult living-donor partner, removed a portion of his healthy liver. Hours later, at Boston Children’s, surgeons Heung Bae Kim and Khashayar Vakili replaced Sloan’s diseased liver with the healthy one.
“It all goes back to the genius of booking that OR,” Chris says. “To know she’d need it, book it, and then it actually working — it’s just beyond me.”
Two weeks following the living donor transplant, Steve, still recovering from his surgery, drives to Boston to meet Sloan for the first time.
“Steven is our hero and reminds us that there are amazing, selfless people in the world,” says Sarah.
“Honestly, I am humbled,” Steve says. “I don’t think of myself as a hero. I did what I had to do. Even my 10-year-old son was unfazed by it. He told me, ‘Saving lives is part of your job.’”
Steve has returned to work in an administrative capacity and, with his recovery ahead of schedule, he will be back to full-time duties within the next few weeks.
And Sloan has returned home.
The 6-month-old, who is back to nursing, just got her two front teeth and is beginning to roll over on her own, has more than lived up to her name. “Sloan means ‘warrior,’” her mom says. “We didn’t think she’d need to be a warrior at such a young age — but she showed us she is.”
Learn more about the Boston Children’s Liver Transplant Program.