Katelynn (Katie) was born healthy and alert on April 1st 1999. One month later, in May, she was hospitalized with RSV (respiratory virus) and quickly recovered. During her stay in the hospital, routine blood draws were performed and there was no sign of illness.
June of 1999, Katie’s brother Kullen, was experiencing medical issues of his own. Katie and four of her family members set out on a two week trip. Kullen was being treated at the National Jewish Research Center in Denver, CO. While in Colorado, the family noticed that the whites of Katie’s eyes were turning yellow. Still not concerned, the family returned home to Sebree. On June 25th, Katie’s mother Stephanie, took her for a well care check-up to see Dr. Fife in Henderson, KY. Dr. Fife took one look at Katie and immediately knew something was not right. That is when the nightmare began.
July 9th 1999, the final diagnosis was reported: Biliary Artesia. Katie would need a liver transplant; she was placed on the transplant waiting list in September, 1999.
Several trips were made to Cincinnati for check-ups, hospitalizations, and testing. In March of 2000, Katie’s condition was worsening and Katie’s parents knew it was time to make a critical decision. Her parent’s decided that Stephanie would go through the living donor work-up. Stephanie was a match and would be the donor.
The Transplant date was sent for April 10th 2000. Katie and her family arrived at the hospital prepared for the surgery. After she and her mother were admitted, the doctors at the hospital came into Katie’s room and said there was another child who was extremely ill and needed to be transplanted immediately. The living donor transplant surgery was rescheduled for the next week, April 17th.
On April 16th 2000, the family once again set out for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Katie and her family left on the 16th to spend the night together in a hotel to celebrate Stephanie’s birthday on the 17th. At 10:30 pm that evening the pager which was given to the family from the transplant center sounded. Everyone was startled by a sound they had never heard before. Katie’s dad, Larry, stumbled to phone and was almost too nervous to make the call. A voice on the other end said “We have a donor.” We were in shock, dumbfounded, and excited, all these emotions running through our minds at the same time. The next morning, April 17th 2000, Katie received her life saving transplant from someone other than her mother.
This year, on April 17th, 2010, Katie will celebrate the 10th anniversary of her liver transplant. There have been a few bumps along the way but the doctor’s skills and prayers of concerned families, friends, and strangers have contributed to her miraculous healing after each illness.
A Mother’s Perspective:
After the transplant, I was so grateful for the life saving gift but also had a heavy sense of guilt. I grieved for the other family and what they had lost. The first week after the transplant I thought, “This is the first Saturday, Sunday, Monday…the donor family doesn’t have their little one.” Each holiday is also difficult for me because I continue to remember the donor family and their loss. I had written a letter to the donor family a hundred times, but for some reason I just could not express how grateful I was at their decision to donate. What were the right words? What were the wrong words? The letters were never mailed. So, Larry and I decided to let Katie make the decision to contact, or perhaps meet, the donor family when she is ready. Katie needs to understand the awesome gift she received came from a selfless heartbroken family.
Today, Katie is a very active 10 years old. She loves to go camping, swimming, watching Pat Summit’s Lady Vols, texting, talking on her cell phone, playing soccer and basketball. Last year, Katie made the Webster County All-Star basketball team and, more recently, made the honor-roll at school. At this point, Katie’s greatest ambition is to determine how many different ways to irritate her older brother Kullen, and not get caught by mom and dad.
Larry and I are now organ donors and after Katie’s blessed gift of life, many friends and relatives have made the incredible decision to also be organ donors.
During the time Katie was on the waiting list I taught 4th grade. My students would often ask me why Katie couldn’t just go to the hospital and get a liver. I would encourage each student to go home and ask their parents about the process that had to take place in order for Katie to get the liver she so desperately needed. One particular student came back to school the next day and said that his parents had decided to become donors.
Babies who are critically ill and in need of a transplant need a voice. Let’s be their voice and spread the word about organ donation. Who knows, a stranger who decides to donate their organs just might save your child’s life.