MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Ten-month-old Carolyn Cooper’s mom and dad take no small developments for granted.
“Every day I feel like she’s doing something new,” said Stephanie Cooper.
“It’s awesome just to watch her hair grow and her body get fat,” father Bryant Cooper added, with a laugh.
A skilled team of pediatric transplant surgeons at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital seem to enjoy Carolyn’s progress just as much.
“She probably was the sickest patient I ever operated on,” said pediatric transplant surgeon Srinath Chinnakotla, who headed up that team when Carolyn needed her liver transplant — twice.
“By far, the liver transplant is the most technically challenging operation,” said Dr. Chinnakotla. “The connections, especially the vascular connections, have to be very technically precise.”
Carolyn was born with a condition called Biliary Atresia, which blocks the tubes carrying a liver’s fluids to the gallbladder. Her parents knew something was wrong when she became increasingly jaundiced, her skin turning deeper shades of yellow.
Without a liver transplant, 90 percent of children with the congenital condition die before their first birthday. Hope arrived in the early 1980s, when an 11-month-old girl named Jaimie Fisk received a transplant at the University of Minnesota. Fisk continued to thrive, becoming the world’s longest surviving liver recipient.
So, Carolyn was in the right place for world-class care. On Christmas Eve morning, after more than two months on a waiting list, a donor liver became available. Surgeons operated through the night. But Christmas morning, the news was not good. The new liver had not survived.
“Once the first liver failed Carolyn was very sick,” Dr. Chinnakotla said. “She almost had less than 48-hours to survive.”
Then, that miracle. Christmas night a second donor liver became available. Carolyn returned to the operating room. That is when her parents needed to lean on faith in the university’s 30 years of experience in pediatric organ transplants.
“Because, you think, my baby is getting a transplant and you just have to turn her over to these surgeons you know, it’s just amazing to be able to trust (in their expertise),” said Stephanie.
Bryant added, “Dr. Chinnacotla did not leave the hospital for probably 48 hours.”
Chinnacotla said, in all of Donor Region No. 7, which covers the Minnesota and the Midwest, there are only about 10 pediatric liver transplants a year. That underscores the odds Carolyn overcame to could get a second, life-saving liver transplant in 24 hours.
Carolyn will be on anti-rejection medications, but is otherwise expected to have a normal life. She turns 10 months old this week. The Coopers, of course, realize it took two tragedies for their little girl to get her new livers. They say they are forever grateful to the families that donated the organs.