It was July 1989, I was 15 months old. The phone rang and four magical words were heard, “We have a liver.”
I received the best gift of life that day - a liver from an older child, cut down to my size. It was crucial timing as my own liver had stopped working and it was bulging out of my stomach. I was at risk of brain and internal haemorrhaging because of the pressure on my body.
My name is Melanie and I've just celebrated the 30th anniversary of my liver transplant which took place at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane.
I was born with a condition called biliary atresia, meaning I had no ducts to drain the bile from my liver to the intestine. As a baby I was jaundiced and my family knew something wasn’t right. At four months old I was referred to a specialist. Within a week I was a patient at Wellington Hospital. I was given a hopefully lifesaving Kasai operation – a bypass of the bile ducts, where a stoma is formed from the bowel and a colostomy bag attached. However the operation failed and instead of flowing into the bag, the bile went back into my body and continued to slowly poison me. I was given six months to live without a liver transplant.
At seven months old the head surgeon of the Queensland Liver Transplant Unit arrived in New Zealand for a conference. We went straight down to Wellington to a room filled with doctors, surgeons and other medical staff. I lay on the examination table while my history was presented via an overhead projector. The doctors gave me an 85% chance of survival in the first year if I had a transplant as soon as possible.
My family later discovered that the doctors had assessed two other children that same day both needing liver transplants for different conditions. Neither received a suitable donor. Both died not long after.
About $120,000 was needed to get me to Brisbane for a transplant, as paediatric transplants weren’t carried out in New Zealand at the time. Thanks to the generosity of the community and the huge fundraising appeals and support, we arrived in Brisbane in December 1988.
Despite having the most common blood group (type O), no liver was forthcoming and the horribly long wait turned from days, to weeks, to months. By the end of February I had deteriorated so much I was given three to four weeks to live. I was fading away. By April when I had my first birthday, my weight was the same as my birth weight.
Each year in July we celebrate the anniversary of my transplant. I have made a scrap book with all my fundraising and appeal articles. I often go through it all and I admire all the help and support we received. I am so very thankful, incredibly grateful and so blessed for it all. I now believe every day holds the possibility of a miracle.
My journey since hasn’t been without its challenges; at age 15 I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. After surgery to remove the lump in my throat and courses of chemotherapy, I was eventually cleared.
I am now working in an administrative role for a private hospital. I really enjoy being able to give back and make a difference. I can understand the nervous feelings and help support patients and their families.
As a transplant recipient I encourage others to think about donation and its importance. Organ donation is a gift anyone can give and it can make a miraculous difference for patients and their families - I’m here today because of one.
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