World's Tiniest Liver Recipient
A decade ago, the UI Organ Transplant Center was in the headlines for transplanting the world's youngest recipient of a liver portion donated by a family member.
Here's the story:
Jim and Kellie Lindley of Port Byron, Ill. were not expecting anything unusual when their daughter, Kaylee, arrived on Nov. 7, 2003, at Genesis Hospital in Davenport. That changed rapidly.
"I kind of knew when they brought her to me to give me that first initial glance and there was blood in her mouth," said Kellie Lindley. "I had a red flag go up right then that there was something not quite right here."
Within hours of her birth, a medical helicopter transported Kaylee to University of Iowa Children's Hospital. A team of specialists in University of Iowa Children's Hospital and the Liver Transplant Program swiftly evaluated Kaylee.
"The cells that make up the substance of the liver were missing," explained Warren Bishop, MD, an associate professor and a hepatologist in the UI Department of Pediatrics. "As a result, Kaylee's liver couldn't make clotting factors, couldn't remove poisonous material from the blood, and she required major life supporting care."
Physicians told Kaylee's parents that she would not survive without a liver transplant. At that dark hour, a ray of hope shone through. Tests showed that her father had the same blood type and was a good match to donate a portion of his liver to his baby. As a family medicine physician, Jim Lindley recognized the hurdles his daughter faced.
"We knew that without the transplant, Kaylee wouldn't live," Jim Lindley said. "You would do anything for your child. If it meant taking an organ or a piece of an organ out of you for her, you would sure do that to save her life."
Planning for the transplant began immediately. The team knew they had to work quickly because Kaylee was critically ill. Kaylee's liver failure also placed her at risk for brain damage, swelling and hernias.
"It's a credit to our neonatology staff that they were able to keep this child alive until transplant," Bishop said.
Nineteen days after her birth, the transplant team brought Kaylee and her father to the operating rooms where the procedure would take place.
"It was the hardest day of my life," Kellie said. "The day I sent my husband and daughter into surgery, I didn't know if I would see her pink little face again."
The surgical team performed a left lateral liver transplant. They removed the smallest possible lobe of Jim Lindley's liver, reduced it down to about the size of a small apple and transplanted it into Kaylee. Officials with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) said that at the time she was the youngest living-related liver transplant patient on record.
The difficulties didn't end there. Because of her small size, her surgeons could not close the incision over her new liver until she grew larger. They had to cover the surgical site with a special mesh. The first 24 hours following the transplant were the most critical.
Kaylee's mother recalls the first time she saw her baby after the transplant. "My husband's downstairs, I'm all by myself, and I thought, we made it this far, and I'm not going to lose her after all this," Kellie said.
Kaylee overcame that crisis and her physicians say she should be able to lead a relatively normal life.