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For the past 16 years, Christine and Steve Plotts have watched their daughter grow. From birthdays and holidays to her first day of school, they have cherished every moment - knowing that they almost never got this chance.
As a baby, Carleigh was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a rare condition that affects newborns and is the most common reason for liver transplants in children. Thanks to her mother and the Pediatric Liver Transplant Team at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Carleigh received a living-donor liver transplant that saved her life.
During a pediatric living-donor liver transplant, a portion of a healthy liver from a family member, friend, or even an altruistic donor is removed and transplanted into a child to replace their unhealthy liver. This is possible because of the liver’s unique ability to regenerate, or grow back. This option allows a child to receive a transplant sooner than they would if they were waiting for an organ from a deceased donor.
"We didn’t really have a choice," remembers Steve. "Our only other choice was to lose our daughter and that was not an option."
Thanks to her mother, father, and the transplant team, Carleigh was given a second chance at life. Now, 14 years after her transplant, she has come a long way.
"It’s been so rewarding to watch her figure out life and grow up," says Steve. "She really is a normal kid now."
Carleigh believes that her experience made her brave and has given her the strength to face any challenge that comes her way.
"I am here today and I almost wasn’t," says Carleigh. "I am just so grateful for that."
Carleigh and her family believe that more people need to be aware of living donor transplants and the life-saving power that they hold. In school, she completed projects and presentations about biliary atresia, which gave her a chance to learn why she needed a transplant and to educate her classmates about living donation.
"It’s a hard thing to go through at the time but it’s so worth it," says Steve. "It helps save a lot of lives."
A few months ago, while in Pittsburgh visiting family, Carleigh was able to meet the team that saved her life, including George Mazariegos, MD, chief of Pediatric Transplantation of the Hillman Center for Pediatric Transplantation at Children’s Hospital and the doctor who performed her surgery. Carleigh was excited to meet him and he was just as excited to see her doing so well after all these years.
"It made me happy to see that he was happy," says Carleigh. "It was really cool to talk to him and find out why he does what he does."
Today, Carleigh is an active teenager. She is learning to drive, enjoys skateboarding, and stays very busy in school. She is even a star athlete and has been running cross county since her sophomore year of high school. Her personal best is 26 minutes and 49 second in a 5K – an accomplishment that Carleigh and her family are very proud of.
"It is an awesome feeling to see her grow, knowing what the alternative was 14 years ago. I could not have my daughter right now, but I do," says Steve.
Learn more about living-donor liver transplantation and how you can sign up to be a donor.
Children's Hospital's main campus is located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. Our main hospital address is:
UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
One Children’s Hospital Way
4401 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
In addition to the main hospital, Children's has many convenient locations in other neighborhoods throughout the greater Pittsburgh region.
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Interested in giving to Children's Hospital? Visit Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation's website to make a donation online.