Posted: Friday, January 6, 2017 – 4:16 PM
At 7 months old, Donovan Daniels may not understand for some time just how serious his medical condition, biliary atresia, really is. It may be years before he knows he was the 300th pediatric liver transplant ever performed by doctors at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and USC’s Keck Medicine. But one day he’ll know his father Dejon Daniels went under the knife so that a portion of dad’s liver could help him live a longer, healthier life.
In the meantime, Dejon and Donovan’s mother Jessica Valdepeña got a glimpse of what that life might look like, thanks to a meeting with a young woman named Lydia Hand.
Lydia, now 18, was CHLA’s first living donor liver transplant patient. As an infant, she was also diagnosed with biliary atresia, a rare life-threatening disease where bile ducts cannot expel bile from the liver. In 1998, Lydia received a liver from her grandmother. Today, she’s a college freshman majoring in music, and says her donated liver is still going strong.
“It’s pretty amazing how far she has come,” says Jessica. “I want Donovan to grow up and have a bright future just like Lydia is having.”
CHLA’s Liver and Intestinal Transplant Program has grown to become one of the largest in the country – the hospital is a consistent leader in the volume of living donor liver transplants performed nationwide among pediatric centers, with success rates well above national averages.
“But statistics are not the real story,” says Daniel Thomas, MD, medical director of CHLA’s Liver and Intestinal Transplant Program. “It is seeing patients like Lydia Hand grow, accomplish, and live to be a happy young woman with a life full of dreams and hopes.”
Coincidentally, the same team that worked on liver patient #1 also treated patient #300. Dr. Thomas is both Lydia’s and Donovan’s hepatologist, while Dr. Yuri Genyk was their transplant surgeon.
“Donovan’s success is the culmination of the knowledge and skills from the 299 liver transplants that preceded him, including Lydia’s,” says Dr. Genyk, surgical director of CHLA’s Pediatric Liver Transplant Program and associate professor of clinical surgery in USC’s Keck School of Medicine Division’s of Hepatobiliary Surgery and Abdominal Organ Transplantation. “It speaks to the expertise and dedication of the entire liver transplant team.”
When Donovan’s parents brought him to CHLA in October, doctors told them Donovan urgently needed a new liver. Dejon volunteered and was found to be a match. The transplant took place Nov. 18, with Dr. Genyk performing both parts – Dejon’s surgery at USC in the morning and Donovan’s transplant at CHLA several hours later.
Lydia and Donovan’s family met in Donovan’s hospital room on Dec. 1, the day he was discharged.
“I’ve heard all the stories about my transplant from my family, but to actually see and hear what their family is going through is a special experience” says Lydia. “Donovan is me, I was once him, and it’s incredible to know that hundreds of other kids have received this life-saving procedure at CHLA in the years between us,” Lydia said.
By the day Donovan left the hospital, CHLA doctors had already performed three more pediatric liver transplants.