How My Son Got A New Liver: Transplant Day

April is National Donate Life Month and Bunny, Pip, and I want you to be very aware because without organ donation and transplant, Pip wouldn't be with us today.

More than 115,000 men, women, and children need life-saving organ transplants right now and every 10 minutes, another name is added to the list. An average of 18 people die each day waiting for organs.

This month, I'm gonna tell Pip's story - a little bit every day. We need to improve these statistics. Learning more and talking more and sharing more is the first step.

Transplant Day

Not every child goes in to transplant as compromised as Pip was.  Many are at home before their surgery.  Pip's decline actually made transplant day much easier for me and considerably more difficult for pretty much everyone else, I imagine.  I think it would have been hard to bring a child who was still functioning OK in to the hospital for such an enormous procedure.  I would have struggled handing him over.  But Pip was so sick, I practically danced down to pre-op with him.

Having a child who is that sick was a 24/7 struggle those last few days.  He couldn't sleep without being held.  And he needed us to be standing or sitting up straight because he had a hard time breathing when he was lying flat.  Sometimes we could find a comfortable position but not one that allowed for us to sleep.  I did three of those nights by myself and then called in my sister to do a couple with me so we could take turns and someone could lie down while the other one was on a shift with Pip.  He was on a constant rotation of infusions and loud alarms would go off each time one finished so even if we could have laid down, we would have been up every two hours.  On the night before his surgery, when they found the balance they had been looking for and his kidneys began working, there was peace in his room for three hours and I slept for all three consecutive hours without waking.  It was the most sleep I had gotten in a week.

We were exhausted.  But when I remember transplant day, I remember light and laughter and hope.  I was running on pure adrenaline.  Good stuff.

Pip's dad was taken into surgery at Northwestern Memorial at 8am and they took Pip down to begin pre-op at 9am.  They said they'd notify me when the transplant was underway and I think they guesstimated that would be an hour or so but I didn't hear from them until after lunch.

A number of friends came to the hospital to sit with me that day.  I had requested company because I had anticipated that with my son and husband both undergoing major abdominal surgery simultaneously at two different hospitals, I might be freaked out.  But I really wasn't.  I was happy.  It felt like I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for the first time.

We were across the street from the hospital having lunch when the first call came.  It was from our organ procurement guy.  I never knew before that there were people who worked in 'organ procurement' but there totally are.  It's a pretty cool job.  He said that the liver had been delivered to Children's and Pip's surgery was beginning.  The reason for the delay?  When they opened up Pip's dad, they discovered a slight anomaly with the way his hepatic artery was attached to his liver.

Time for "Transplant Corner" with your totally unqualified instructor, Pip's Mama
Your liver is naturally divided into 8 functional segments and the liver team has to take two in order to get the proper plumbing that goes with it because they have to have the two veins going in and the one artery coming out to hook the liver up and get it to work..  They can't just take a random hunk that looks like it'll fit.  This is science, ya'll.  They take the images they've gathered from the donor and the recipient and they map out a plan before they cut anybody up.  Kinda like when I have to put together one of those crazy Lego spaceships...but not really.
Could you possibly be more of a transplant expert now?  I don't think so.  You're welcome.

Anyway, they didn't tell me this until after the transplant was over because, you know, coronary, but the liver team over at Northwestern, upon opening Pip's dad up and noting the unexpected anomaly, called the transplant team at Children's and said that the surgery would need to be cancelled.  There was then a one hour back-and-forth between the two teams via phone and computer as they tried to figure out how they would take the section they needed now that they realized that his dad's hepatic artery curved around and came into his liver at a different angle - right where they had expected to be cutting.  They never went into detail with me about this conversation but I imagine that it came down to Pip's transplant team feeling like this might very well be his only shot and they needed to go for it.

So they did.

The rest of the surgery went without a hitch.  Pip was stable the entire time and only required one unit of blood.  I was allowed to see him in the post-op area at around 7pm.  I was prepared for him to look horrible and scary but he was gorgeous.  His tummy was flat and his breathing was easier.  They hook them up to more tubes and things once they get them to the PICU but in the little recovery room, well, he looked like a miracle.

Because he is.


If you wanna go back to the beginning and read the whole story, click this here link.

To learn more about organ donation and to make sure you're on the registry for your state, visit

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