Dawn Cavanaugh carefully and calmly navigates the roads of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, with a bus full of kids, bringing them to school and safely back home again at the end of each day. As a bus driver, it’s the methodical beat of her everyday life.
Last year, as a mom, she was navigating a very different journey, one in which she did everything in her power — including giving a portion of her liver — to bring her daughter Lydia home safely.
“As far as I’m concerned, my role in this life is to care for my kids,” says Dawn. “And if I have to give a part of myself to do that, that’s all there is to it.”
On the morning of July 15, 2015, Boston Children’s Hospital surgeons Dr. Khashayar Vakili and Dr. Heung Bae Kim begin prepping 11-year-old Lydia for what will be an all-day liver transplant surgery. Dawn is about to undergo surgery as well, 20 miles away at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, in Burlington, Massachusetts, where Boston Children’s adult liver-donor surgeries take place.
A portion of Dawn’s healthy liver will be removed to replace Lydia’s diseased liver. The surgery is not without risk. …
An organ transplant is a life-changing event extending far beyond the operating room, the clinics and the hospital walls. Read about five children, one young adult and their families, whose lives were forever changed by the Pediatric Transplant Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Lydia’s liver transplant, a mom’s gift
Dawn Cavanagh gave her daughter life twice — first when she was born and, again, when she gave 13-year-old Lydia a piece of her liver last summer. The donor-approval process, which occurs with Boston Children’s partner Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, required hours of medical screening, including an interview with a social worker, who asked if Dawn expected anything in return for being Lydia’s liver donor. “And I said, ‘Of course I expect something,’” explains Dawn. “’I expect her to live a long and happy life, and I expect her to be with me for a long time.’”
More than a year after her liver transplant, for Lydia’s birthday, Aug. 1, the Cavanagh family went on Lydia’s Make-A-Wish trip, a Disney cruise to the Bahamas. “We had so much fun,” says Dawn. “She’s a happy kid. She has dreams. She wants to be a transplant nurse, and she wants to work on 10 South at Boston Children’s Hospital.” …
It is late in the evening on June 14, 2015. Kern Tyler and his wife Pasina Mazoka-Tyler sit in a waiting room at Boston Children’s Hospital, while their 11-month-old son Malambo Mazoka-Tyler, born with a life-threatening disease called biliary atresia, undergoes a liver transplant.
To arrive at this moment, they have traveled vast distances, visited multiple hospitals, sought the advice and counsel of numerous doctors, packed all their belongings and moved more than 7000 miles from their home in Zambia, Africa, to Boston, Massachusetts.
He had picked out what he wanted to wear, where he wanted to be buried, and he told me, ‘My soul is all I have left. If I don’t have a liver, I am going to die.’
Yet, they call this journey a blessing.
In the same room, a family from Maine patiently waits, while their son is prepped for his liver transplant.
Born with cystic fibrosis, 18-year-old Brent Groder is battling end-stage liver disease. Just two months earlier, he was planning his funeral, recalls his mom Charlene Newhall. “He had picked out what he wanted to wear, where he wanted to be buried, and he told me, ‘My soul is all I have left. If I don’t have a liver, I am going to die.’” …
When Dillon McCarty was 13, he received a very special gift from his stepfather Nicholas Gula—a new kidney.
But Gula, 34, didn’t donate his kidney to Dillon. Instead, he gave it to a stranger, a 29-year-old man also in need of a kidney transplant in Atlanta. And in return, the man’s wife gave her kidney to Dillon.
The carefully choreographed “operation” involved two selfless donors, two flights, two states, three hospitals and four surgeries—more than one thousand miles apart—inexplicably tying two families.
“It was a dream,” says Gula. “I was saving two lives. Words can’t even express how I felt.”
The reason for the kidney swap was simple. To be a match, a donor’s blood type and antibody testing must be compatible with the recipient. Dillon had relatives—including his stepfather—who were willing to donate, but those donors were incompatible. Only his mother Samantha McCarty was a match, but not one that would work for Dillon. …