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Living Donor Liver Transplant for Biliary Atresia

Haden Thomas

On Jan. 28, 1997, 38-year-old Lynn Thomas and his 18-month-old son, Haden, made Pittsburgh history. Haden received a portion of his father’s liver during the area’s first living-related pediatric liver transplant.

A living-related pediatric liver transplant involves extracting a section of a relative’s liver—normally a parent—and transplanting it into a child. A healthy adult does not need an entire liver for it to function properly—a fact that gives hope to families of children who have end-stage liver disease and anxiously await the bittersweet notification that another child has died and a liver is available. Unfortunately, some families never receive that call, and the child dies while waiting.

The Thomas's ordeal began when Haden was only 2 months old. After many tests, he was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a disease that prevents bile ducts from properly eliminating bile from the liver, causing the organ to malfunction. If untreated, the disease leads to liver failure and eventually death.

Although biliary atresia is incurable, the most successful treatment available is an operation known as the Kasai procedure where surgeons replace the patients blocked bile duct with a piece of the patient’s own intestine to act as a new duct.

In October 1995, Haden underwent the Kasai procedure, but even though it was successful, a pediatric liver transplant became his only hope. Haden’s name was placed on a waiting list. “He was relatively healthy from the time we listed him until November when his doctors realized he had intestinal bleeding,” says Nanette Thomas, Haden’s mother. The urgency for transplantation had reached a critical point and waiting for a liver was becoming unbearable. Lynn and Nanette were then told about living donor liver transplant procedure.

“This is a modern day miracle,” says Nanette. “These doctors gave Haden a chance at life.” The survival rates for patients who have undergone related living donor liver transplants are approximately 85 percent.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC pioneered pediatric liver transplantation. The hospital’s transplant teams have performed more pediatric liver transplants than any other center in the United States and are regarded as experts in the pediatric transplant community because of their experience, the high liver transplant survival rate of their patients and their years of working with Prograf®, the anti-rejection drug therapy.

Two months after surgery, both Haden and Lynn were in good condition. Dad’s liver had completely regenerated itself and Haden’s body accepted his father’s liver section. When asked for his thoughts after the procedure was over and everyone was recovering, Lynn said, “I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to look at him and know that there is a piece of me inside of him that helped keep him alive. I thank God I was able to help.

Read about other children who have had successfull liver transplants at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

Last Update
November 17, 2010
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Last Update
November 17, 2010