Montana Sertz – Hepatoblastoma

Learn more about Montana's experience with a Liver Transplant at Children's Hospital.

"You’re going to Pittsburgh tomorrow — and you should pack a bag.” Those words from Montana Sertz’s pediatrician ended several frustrating months of diagnosing the 4-year-old’s puzzling symptoms.

Stomach, leg and shoulder pains turned out to be hepatoblastoma. There were multiple tumors on her liver that had traveled to her heart.

Surgeons removed the heart tumor, but could not remove all of the tumors in the liver. After chemotherapy to shrink the remaining tumors, transplant surgeon George Mazariegos, MD, informed the family that Montana could be a candidate for a liver transplant if the chemotherapy could successfully confine the cancer to the liver.

“The odds looked intimidating,” says her dad, Rick Sertz. “But it was all we could cling to.” Montana would need to continue the chemotherapy to keep the cancer contained. After eight months of chemo and waiting, Dr. Mazariegos indicated that Montana was ready for a transplant.

But there was no liver available for Montana at that time, and she had already received so much chemotherapy that she was getting close to the point where the chemo would become toxic to her.

Feeling they had run out of options, Rick offered a piece of his own liver for his daughter’s transplant. Tests determined that Rick was a match, and the family was elated. But three days later, a matching donor liver became available. “It was like winning the lottery,” Rick says.

Shortly after the transplant, Montana’s new liver was not getting enough blood, so UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh provided extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment, which uses a machine to imitate the gas exchange process of the lungs, continuously removing carbon dioxide and returning oxygenated blood to the bloodstream. Montana had passed another hurdle.

The team model of care used by UPMC Children's Hospital Cancer Program is critical for the successful management of children with cancer, especially complex cases such as Montana’s. “Montana had a lot on her plate,” Rick emphasized.

Today Rick reports that 11-year-old Montana is probably more aware of her health than many of her peers, but her focus is on schoolwork and other preteen concerns — not on cancer. She’s down to one checkup visit a year. “And she’s doing great,” he says.

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