13-year-old receives transplant

By Isaac Wolf

Without a doubt, Aayushi Patel will have the most interesting winter break story to tell when she returns to her eighth-grade class.

On December 18, Patel left for a three-week trip to her family’s native country, India.

Five days into the trip, Patel became sick with a high fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. Patel was treated at a local hospital, and she felt better for the next week. But as the trip came to a close she became sick again, developing jaundice. By the time Patel arrived home, she needed a wheelchair.

Doctors at the University of Chicago Hospital diagnosed Patel with liver failure and said that the damage was moving to her brain.

“They told us she had a week,” said Patel’s father, Pankaj Patel. “We were worried. The only comfort we had was that God would take care of it.”

Pankaj Patel’s immense concern for his daughter’s life was mitigated by news that she would be moved to the front of a waiting list for liver transplants, which currently lists 17,000 would-be recipients nationwide.

While the Illinois government granted the family’s petition that their daughter be treated immediately, the Patels’ experience is not typical; in 2001, almost 6,500 patients died while waiting for a transplant.

The Coalition on Donation, an organization that aims to increase organ donation, stressed the importance of finding more donors.

“The need for transplants is outweighing the donations,” said spokeswoman Jocelyn Reed. “Because of poor health habits and people living longer, the number of people who are on transplant waiting lists are going up. The supply is just not meeting the needs.”

Reed noted that most of the current donors are people who are touched personally by the need for an organ donation.

“The drive to make donations usually starts with someone who needs a transplant,” she said. “From there, other people get involved. When you have someone in your family who needs an organ, then discussion is going to spread through the community. But it all starts with a personal need.”

Though Aayushi Patel would be the first to receive a substitute liver, the median waiting time for a new liver is between one and two years. Desperate to find a replacement liver, the Patel family turned to the public. After an article in The Chicago Sun-Times and a feature on a local news station, the Patels were swarmed with at least 10 offers for organ donation.

“I got many, many phone calls from people who were ready to donate part of their livers–normally this [size liver donation] wouldn’t be enough but based on her size, this was sufficient,” Pankaj Patel explained.

The Patel family’s move to ask for a public donor was a bold decision, according to Dr. Lynda Brady, medical director of pediatric liver transplantation at University Hospitals. According to Brady, the University Hospital is still deciding whether or not to allow good samaritan organ donations, or the gift of an organ from a specific live person, as opposed to from a list.

“The surgery is surrounded by ethical issues,” Brady said. “It’s very high risk to the donor, but there’s also a large possibility of coercion–hearing that someone will die in 48 hours unless you give them an organ is very coercive. It’s a very difficult issue.”

While the doctors debated allowing such a donation over the weekend, Aayushi Patel’s condition began to stabilize, meaning she would have longer to find a replacement liver, Brady said.

The situation drew to a close on Tuesday when she received a liver from a donor in Minnesota.

Aayushi Patel is currently recovering well and without complication, her father said.

On Saturday, when she turns 14, her birthday will be marked with little fanfare. “She’ll still be in the hospital,” her father said. “We’ll have to postpone a party. But there will definitely be a celebration. No doubt about that.”