'It was scary'

Father of 1-y-o recounts journey to child's successful liver transplant

Observer staff reporter

Thursday, October 11, 2018

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WHEN 26-year-old Jermaine Clarke learnt that he was a match for his son Zaiden, who desperately needed a liver transplant, he was beside himself with joy, but more importantly, he was relieved.

At three weeks old, doctors discovered that Zaiden suffered from a rare disease called biliary atresia. This is a childhood disease of the liver in which one or more bile ducts are abnormally narrow, blocked or absent. It can be congenital or acquired.

The now one-year-old infant suffered jaundice days after his birth, and had what his parents described as a “puffy stomach”. Checks at the Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, St James, revealed that he was born without bile ducts.

On Monday Clarke told the Jamaica Observer in an interview that the process — from the time the child was diagnosed to the point of surgery — was “stressful”. But the young father was grateful surgeons from Nemours/Alfred I duPoint Hospital for Children in Delaware and surgeons from Bustamante Hospital for Children in Kingston were able to pull off the first of its kind operation in Jamaica, on September 26.

“It (donating a portion of his liver) was nothing to think about. I know that he needed it so I didn't have to think twice about it. He needed a new liver and they said that he needed it before he was two years old. It was scary, trust me. We were up and down, and when I found out that he needed a liver transplant I was worried. The cost was a lot. We were hearing that it would cost over $60 million and also that we had to go to Argentina for it to be done, and that was scary,” Clarke said.

He mentioned that, at first, doctors at Cornwall Regional Hospital contacted doctors at Bustamante Hospital for Children, but they immediately realised that outside assistance would be needed.

Zaiden's parents, feeling hopeless, travelled overseas seeking assistance and were referred to Nemours/Alfred I duPoint Hospital for Children. That hospital contacted Bustamante Hospital and plans were put in place to undertake two surgeries, one of which involved Zaiden. The other involved a nine-month-old baby boy.

Surgeons from Nemours/Alfred, Bustamante Hospital and Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) then performed the surgeries. Surgeons from KPH did four-hour surgeries on the donors, while surgeons from Nemours/Alfred and Bustamante Hospital performed nine-hour surgeries on the infants.

“They (doctors from Nemours/Alfred) somehow got in touch with Dr (Colin) Able and said that we had to do tests to find a match. It felt awesome knowing that I was a match because we would have had to search all over the place to get a donor, and not everyone would be willing to do that. Not everyone would give a portion of their liver [to someone else]. People would be scared and so forth,” Clarke said.

The father told the Observer that both himself and the child are recovering well, but he is more grateful for the fact that Zaiden's body has not rejected the liver.

“It's a good feeling,” he said.

In the meantime, Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton described the surgeries as pioneering for the country.

“It does a number of things; the first thing is that it helps the patients, which we are very happy for. They were able to save two young lives, but bigger than that, it shows what is possible if we have the facilities; if we are willing to partner, because this was a collaborative effort; and that our doctors and nurses are excellent physicians, and that they can deliver good quality service. Thirdly, it tells us that there is still work to be done in terms of our capacity to deliver on specialised areas of clinical service. We can do it,” he said.

The health minister added that if the facilities, means and the determination to get it done are there, whether through partnerships or otherwise, it will be done.

“Bustamante Hospital for Children has done a lot of firsts and this is certainly one of them. In addition to what is happening in this particular area, we have a new facility in the operating theatre and the cath lab which will open next month officially. It is now being tested. This will allow us to do a lot more cardiac surgeries and not just for Jamaica but for the region,” he said.

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