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When Rocco Mastramico was just four months old, he suddenly went from being a healthy and rambunctious baby to a very sick child. His parents, Chris and Diane, noticed that the coloring of his skin and eyes looked a little strange so they asked their pediatrician to take a closer look. While Rocco showed no other symptoms, a blood test revealed that his liver was failing and he was immediately taken to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Rocco was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a rare and incurable disease that affects newborn babies shortly after birth. Biliary atresia destroys the delicate bile ducts that carry bile from the liver to the intestine preventing the liver from functioning properly. Bile is trapped inside the liver, causing scarring that can lead to cirrhosis. While the disease is rare, it is the most common reason for liver transplants in children.
When Chris and Diane learned that their son needed a liver transplant they were shocked, confused, and terrified. “It hits you really hard when you find out that your son needs a transplant,” says Chris. “But, we knew we were in the right place with the right people.”
Shortly after being diagnosed, Rocco was placed on the transplant waitlist. For children, like Rocco, every moment spent on the waitlist is critical and the need for available organs far outweighs those available. As a result, doctors suggested a living-donor liver transplant.
“Once this option was presented, I wanted to take it,” says Chris. “I immediately thought that if that was something I could do then I wanted to do it.”
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.
“I never knew that a living-donor liver transplant was an option, I just never even considered it,” says Chris. “And to know that the liver grows back was a surprise.”
Four months after being diagnosed, Rocco was strong enough to receive the transplant. During that time, Chris underwent an extensive transplant evaluation and was deemed a perfect match for his son.
Rocco and Chris both underwent a successful living-donor liver transplant on May 12, 2011. While in recovery at UPMC Montefiore, Chris was able to video chat with his family at Children’s Hospital and within a week he was able to visit his son.
“You could tell immediately that there was a difference and that it had worked,” says Chris. “At first glance it was his coloring and then his energy level picked up very quickly.”
Rocco and Chris both made a full recovery and are doing well. Chris hopes that their experience will help others become more aware of the importance of organ donation and living-donor liver transplants.
“It wouldn’t have been an option not to do it. While we were at the hospital we talked to a ton of people who all seemed to have such a positive outlook so that really helped,” says Chris.
Today, Rocco is a healthy and energetic five-year-old. He loves sports and plays baseball, hockey, and is also learning how to swim.
Rocco’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.
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