At 10:15 a.m. on December 13, 2016, Daniel McCabe, a 5 -month-old from Wisconsin, was listed for a liver transplant. Born with biliary atresia, a rare liver disease, Daniel’s condition had taken a turn for the worse.
Just 40 minutes later, at 10:55 a.m., Daniel’s physician, Jeffrey Brown, MD, learned a liver had become available. He entered his hospital room and told Melody, Daniel’s mom, “We have a liver.”
“When Dr. Brown walked into our room and shared the news, I just was speechless. I was immediately so sad but grateful for the donor family. And then at the same time feeling excited and relieved for Daniel,” says Melody. “I never thought he would receive a liver this soon. I thought it would be months before a match and that was my biggest worry because he was so sick.”
Daniel’s short wait on the United Network of Organ Sharing list (UNOS) is extremely rare. According to UNOS, over the last five years, Daniel is just one of 43 people nationwide to have waited less than 40 minutes for a life-saving match.
Justin Boese, Organ Procurement Specialist at Lurie Children’s, says, “This is one of the most incredible things that has happened in the five years that I’ve been here. Patients even in the most critical statuses can wait anywhere from a few days to a few months to a few years for a liver. The shortest wait time I have seen here was at least 12 hours, so 40 minutes is very unusual.” He continues, “It just goes to show the importance of organ donation. There aren’t always organs available, and we were very, very fortunate in this circumstance that we were able to list Daniel as quickly as we were able to and that at almost exactly that moment a liver was becoming available elsewhere in our region.”
Daniel underwent a successful liver transplant with Riccardo Superina, MD, Head of Transplant Surgery at Lurie Children’s, and continues to recover. Superina says,”Daniel is one of the smallest patients we’ve ever transplanted – probably in the 99th percentile. He weighed barely 4 kilograms, and half of that weight was fluids. He was very weak from his disease and never had a normal liver.” He continues, “We split the liver into two portions, so two patients were transplanted from one liver. An adult also benefited from this liver. We’re very mindful of the utilization of donor organs. About half the time we have an organ allocated to us, we are able to split it and utilize it in two patients. If you could do that with 20 percent of donors, it would actually eliminate the pediatric waiting list. But that doesn’t happen often enough.”
“Everything went well, and Daniel is recovering nicely in Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. He’ll be here another three weeks or so. We expect that he will recover with time and good nutrition and will probably regain full function,” says Supernia.
During this season of giving, Daniel’s family feels they received the ultimate gift. “This is the first time I’ve seen him with normal skin coloring. He’s always been yellow in color. So to see him with normal coloring is just amazing,” says Melody. “We had a lot of prayer warriors praying for Daniel. This is the greatest gift we could receive this season.”
UNOS reports that more than 14,000 people are waiting a liver, and the average wait for a liver is 149 days for adults and 86 days for children.
Lurie Children’s has one of the largest and most experienced pediatric liver transplant teams in the country. Our Pediatric Liver Transplantation Program performs ranks among the nation’s top liver transplant programs.
Our program is the regional referral center for biliary atresia (the most common reason why children need a liver transplant) and acute liver failure, which is a rapid loss of liver function. We are also known around the world for our work in treating childhood portal hypertension, which is a rare condition of high pressure in the portal vein, the blood vessel that brings the blood from the intestines to the liver.