Baby Finlay is now a busy toddler, thanks to a life-saving operation he had one year ago at SickKids in Toronto
Born in Nova Scotia, the now 17-month-old, will be starring in the Hospital for Sick Children holiday campaign again this year.
An online video being released in November will share Finlay’s progress since he received a portion of his mother’s liver at the hospital last year on Oct. 29.
“It is good for us to share, especially because he is doing so well,” said Stephanie Maillet.
Maillet and Travis McFarlane, Finlay’s parents, lived in Avonport in the Annapolis Valley when Finlay was born. Maillet was doing her graduate degree at Dalhousie University in Halifax and McFarlane was working as a Valley winemaker.
However, soon after his birth, Finlay was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a disease that causes damage in the bile ducts leading from the liver to the small intestine. Bile accumulates in the liver, causing damage to the vital organ.
The disease affects one in 10,000 to one in 20,000 infants, said the Canadian Liver Foundation website.
Finlay had corrective surgery at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, but his liver was already severely damaged. Once the couple learned Finlay would need a liver transplant to survive, they packed up everything and moved to Ontario to be closer to SickKids, which has Canada’s largest pediatric liver transplant program.
Pediatric liver transplants are not carried out in the Atlantic region.
Because of the shortage of livers from deceased donors, the couple decided to be tested as potential living donors for their son.
Maillet was a good match for Finlay, and she went ahead with a lengthy surgery to remove a piece of her liver, which was then given to Finlay.
Finlay’s illness had left him jaundiced and weak, but he began to improve immediately after the transplant.
Stephanie Maillet and her son Finlay, who’s now an active toddler.
He has continued to thrive and grow in the year since, Maillet said.
“We left the hospital in the middle of December, and he started developing his milestones just like a healthy baby, maybe at a delayed pace. He started sitting up at around eight months, and he started crawling at around 12 months.”
Just recently, Finlay began walking around without a helping hand.
“He has been walking with our hand for a while now, maybe like six months, but he was very cautious and didn’t want to let go of the hand until he was really ready.”
There are about 50 pediatric liver transplants in Canada each year. About 35 to 40 of them are done at SickKids, said Dr. Vicky Ng, medical director of the hospital’s liver transplant program.
Transplants from a living donor account for about 60 per cent of the liver transplants done in children at the hospital. SickKids carried out its first living donor liver transplant in 1996, Ng said.
They are done because of a shortage of organs for transplant from deceased donors.
“Outcomes after a liver transplant, done with a living donor graft, are just as good as outcomes (after a liver transplant) done with a deceased donor graft in children,” Ng said.
The transplanted liver grows along with the child.
“It’s amazing, the liver as an organ,” Ng said.
Maillet describes her son, who has big eyes like his dad, as being “very smart” and “very social.”
“He loves to be out and about. Every time he sees someone walking by him or past him, he says “Hi,” and he expects a response back.”
After the transplant, Finlay had to check in at the hospital clinic once a month. He is now doing so well that he can wait six months between appointments. He must take an anti-rejection medication, which makes him more susceptible to infection.
“We are not trying to keep him in a bubble in any kind of way,” Maillet said.
‘He loves to be out and about. Every time he sees someone walking by him or past him, he says “Hi,” and he expects a response back.’
“Finlay goes to daycare two mornings a week. … We go to play group two mornings a week as well. We are quite out and about.”
Maillet said the family will even be taking a trip to Florida this Christmas to see Finlay’s great grandparents
“We are enjoying Finlay, enjoying his life, his growth.
“It has been quite a journey to get here, but we are so happy we are here.”
The theme of the 2015 video campaign is Life On Pause to illustrate that families with kids at the hospital put their lives on pause while kids undergo treatment. Videos will become fully unlocked for viewing once a certain donation level has been reached, said SickKids Foundation.
More information can be found at www.sickkidsfoundation.com.
Maillet said she and her family hope to eventually move back to Nova Scotia.
“We’ll be back. We’ll be back. I’m not sure when. When we are sure that (Finlay) is maintaining a stable route, our plan is to be back in Nova Scotia.”
Finlay’s grandparents, on his dad’s side, recently bought some land in North Mountain, and planted grapes on the land this past spring.
“The plan is to leave a legacy for Finlay,” Maillet said. “Because my husband is a winemaker, the long-term plan is to hopefully make wine from those grapes.”