Stories about: Liver Transplant Program

A life taken. A life given. A life shared.

Kaitlyn, donor, and Hannah, recipient
Kaitlyn and Hannah

When she read the article in the Cape Cod Times about the 11-year-old girl who underwent a life-saving liver transplant, Melissa Dunphe knew.

“Too many pieces fit for it not to be.”

She knew that the child, who was at the same hospital on the same floor on the same day, had to be the one who received her five-year-old daughter Kaitlyn’s liver.

Five years earlier, at eight months old, Kaitlyn was in a car accident that left her without the use of her limbs and unable to breathe on her own.

During her short life, her parents made moments matter.

“She was a very happy child,” her mom Melissa says. “She loved life — going for walks, having her nails painted and going to the beach. “We knew she wouldn’t live long, but I never expected it to be so soon.”

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Paying it 26.2 miles forward

Tom Williams, a liver transplant recipient, crosses the Boston Marathon finish lineThere is a spot on the Boston Marathon route called “The Liver Mile.” It’s where the grind begins, where the storied course starts to tests runners and where legs often weary from pounding 16.8 miles of punishing roads.

Yet, it’s also where 21-year-old Tom Williams, a liver transplant recipient from Dracut, Massachusetts, first fell in love with the idea of running the Boston Marathon.

“I wasn’t thinking about the difficulty of it,” he says. “I was just thinking, I want to run for other people who are sick.”

Located in front of Newton-Wellesley Hospital, “The Liver Mile” is where volunteers hand out water and gather in support of the Run for Research team, which raises money to benefit the American Liver Foundation. For years, while someone else ran for him as part of the patient-partner program, Tom was a spectator on the sidelines.

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Post-transplant tips & tricks from families who’ve been through it

Transplant recipients typically feel stronger and more energetic following transplant recovery. But returning to regular activities, sports and travel can be challenging. A few “transplant moms,” who’ve already been through the experience, share their wisdom and advice.

liver-transplant-recipient-brent-mom

Charlene, mom to Brent, 19, liver transplant recipient

Planning a first vacation post-transplant is easier said than done. Charlene Newhall knows. And, she has a handful of advice, following a family summer trip to Arizona from their home in Maine:

  • Work with your pharmacy to ensure you have enough medications.
  • Research the closest major hospitals. “I was shocked to learn that two of the labs I called didn’t even check immunosuppressant levels.”
  • Know your insurance coverage. “If we needed labs or anything medical we knew it would be out of pocket as our insurance is MaineCare. It’s a risk we took and we were prepared!”
  • Call your transplant team to help you schedule immunosuppressants accordingly. “If there was one thing I stressed about, it was the time change with the dosing since Arizona is three hours behind us.”
  • Prepare for your flight. “Masks are very important when flying. I was shocked at how many people flew sick. I wiped everything down on the plane with Lysol wipes before we sat down.”
  • Don’t overly stress. “Make your vacation about memories, not about medical issues.”

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A mom gives life twice with living-donor liver transplant

Living-donor liver transplant recipient with her mom Dawn

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.

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