So many Coloradans responded to a call to donate pieces of their livers that Children’s Hospital Colorado expects every child in need of a transplant this year will get one.
Hopefully, others will show the same generosity next year, since additional local children will get sick and kids in other parts of the country are still waiting for life-saving organs, said Dr. Amy Feldman, medical director of the liver transplant program at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
In early September, the hospital asked healthy adults to consider donating a section of their livers.
Ten children were waiting at the time, and the University of Colorado Hospital hadn’t recovered as many livers from deceased donors as in previous years. Some of the children were at risk of becoming too sick to undergo the surgery if organs didn’t become available soon, meaning they would have been out of medical options.
“If we could have 10 people step forward and donate to these kids, that would be amazing,” Dr. Megan Adams, surgical director of pediatric living donor transplantation at Children’s, said at the time.
More than 100 people stepped forward.
Not all of them were healthy enough to donate or opted to continue as they learned more about the process, but six gave organs to children on the waiting list, and one more is already matched with a recipient and scheduled for surgery, Feldman said.
Nine donors are still finishing up the preparation process, so the three remaining children on the list will almost certainly get their transplants soon, she said.
“We have just been overwhelmed by the generosity of the Denver community,” she said.
University of Colorado Hospital committed to first offer livers from living donors to Children’s, Feldman said. Transplants for kids involve a smaller piece of the liver than those for adults, making the recovery easier for the donor, she said.
In adults, liver failure is typically caused by alcohol use, hepatitis viruses or obesity, though some people’s livers shut down because of excessive medication use or exposure to toxins. Most children who need transplants were born with malfunctioning livers, have diseases where the immune system attacks the organs, or have a metabolic condition that could be cured by a new liver.
Donors go through two days of medical testing to make sure their own health won’t be at risk during the surgery and recovery. All donors must be between 18 and 55, without obesity or major health problems. For more information, visit UCHealthLivingDonor.org.
If all nine of the waiting donors opt to go through with the surgery, some could give to children who aren’t currently on the waiting list but are expected to be sick enough to qualify early next year, Feldman said. If Coloradans continued to donate at this rate, the hospital could offer transplants to kids in states that don’t have pediatric liver donation programs that are set up for living donors, she said.
In a typical year, about 10% of the infants and 5% of the older children waiting for donated livers nationwide die without receiving a transplant, Feldman said. That means 30 to 40 preventable deaths each year, plus the damage to kids’ overall health from having liver failure while waiting for a transplant, she said.
“It’s realistic to imagine a world where no child dies because of a lack of a (liver) graft,” she said.
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