Maddox R.- Living Donor Liver Transplant Story

maddox LDLT

Long-lost Cousin Saves Baby's Life with Liver Donation

Time was running out for 2-month old Maddox Raptosh when his mother turned to Facebook in search of a liver donor.

The first to respond — a newly found cousin who offered part of her own liver for the life-saving transplant.

The Challenge: A Hole in His Stomach

By all accounts, Maddox Raptosh was a miracle baby.

Delivered by emergency caesarean in August 2013 when his mother’s amniotic fluid dipped dangerously low, he appeared perfectly healthy. That's until he began spitting up blood a few hours after birth.

Maddox was just a day old when he had emergency surgery to repair a hole in his stomach and stop the bleeding. It was starving his organs of blood.

Most of his organs recovered. But, after a 13-day hospital stay — and 100 units of blood and plasma transfusions — doctors found Maddox was in liver failure. He needed a transplant to survive. 

The Path to Children's Hospital

After consulting with family members in the medical field, Michele Raptosh and her husband, Matt, chose UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Two hours later Maddox flew from his hometown of State College, Pa. to Pittsburgh. When he arrived at Children's, the transplant team immediately placed him at the top of the transplant wait list as a “Status 1A” patient.

While waiting for a liver, Maddox’s condition continued to get worse. As the weeks dragged on, the Raptosh family gathered a dozen times to say goodbye.

With time running out, doctors gave the go-ahead for a live donor liver transplant.

“I felt helpless. Things were getting pretty bad, pretty quickly,” recalls Michele, who couldn’t be a donor because of her recent C-section and blood type.

In desperation, she posted a plea on Facebook.

The Solution: A Living-Donor Liver Transplant

Adopted by her stepfather, Christa Hassen never knew her biological father’s extended family until attending a family reunion as an adult. This is where she met her cousin, Michele, and they became instant friends.

Both married and raising children, they looked alike, shared the same interests, and even had the same tastes.

“We fit like a glove — like we’d always known each other. She’s like a sister to me,” says Christa.

Seeing Michele’s Facebook post, she knew what she had to do.

As a registered organ donor and long-time blood donor, she didn’t think twice about donating part of her liver.

“I’m a mother and I couldn’t imagine what she was going through,” says Christa. “I could see how desperate she was for him to get better, and how helpless she felt.”

Because donors’ names are confidential in case they change their minds, Maddox’s parents didn’t know Christa traveled to Pittsburgh for testing.

Christa was planning a spaghetti dinner benefit for the family when she got word that she was a match.

“It was unbelievable. I was never part of the family growing up, but I ended up being a perfect match,” she says.

It was October 11, 2013 — Matt’s birthday — when she called to give them the news.

“Happy birthday, Matt! Tell Maddox to wait for me,” she said.

Five days later, Christa checked in to UPMC Montefiore while Maddox prepped for surgery at Children’s Hospital.

When Michele finally saw her son after a 12-hour surgery, she was surprised. Maddox's coloring had changed so quickly and he was no longer yellow.

“That’s how he’s supposed to look,” explained his transplant surgeon, Rakesh Sindhi, MD, director of Pediatric Transplant Research at Children’s Hospital.

The Results: A Happy, Healthy Little Boy

One month after surgery, Maddox finally joined his parents, big sister Makayla, and brother Max at home in State College.

He’s now an active, happy 3-year old, despite a few ups and downs:

  • Some allergies due to the immune suppressants.
  • An unexpected surgery to repair a hernia and move his kidney back into place.
  • Another surgery to close his stomach as the final step in the liver transplant process.

“We call him super baby. He eats everything, he’s always on the move, and talks up a storm,” says Michele. “When he’s outgoing and adventurous, I know that’s Christa in him.”

Michele says she’s grateful to everyone who helped save her son’s life, including the blood and plasma donors, but especially Christa. Maddox now calls her “Mimi” and his second “Mom.”

Although they live an hour and a half apart, the two families celebrate Christmas and the liver transplant anniversary together. And they visit each other as often as they can.

“It was such a selfless act. It’s truly an amazing gift and an incredible bond,” says Michele.

She regularly texts her cousin with messages like: “Because of you, he was able to do this today!”

Christa, who describes her surgery as “a piece of cake,” says she’d do it all again.

“Seeing his infectious smile makes it all worthwhile,” says Christa. “Maddox had a tough start, but he’s such a trooper. I know he’s going to grow up and do great things.”

Learn more about living-donor liver transplants for children.