Cheryl Anderson, Post-Crescent Media 6:15 p.m. CST November 26, 2014
How do you thank someone for giving your child the gift of life? If you’re Appleton mother Katie Krueger, you don’t.
Krueger’s stepsister, Chelsie Peterson, donated a portion of her liver to Krueger’s son, Tayten, this year.
“Before we knew (Chelsie) was a match, I said, ‘I just want to thank you’ and she yelled at me,” Krueger, 27, said. “She said, ‘Don’t you say thank you. It’s my job.'”
Peterson, 25, of Oak Creek, who will return to work early next month after an eight-week recovery period, said the magnitude of what she did really hasn’t hit home yet. “It will probably hit me when (Tayten) hits his first home run.”
Tayten, 6, a kindergartner at Westside Elementary School in Kimberly, was born with biliary artresia, a rare disease of the liver and bile ducts that occurs in about one in every 18,000 infants, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Tayten was 3 months old when he was diagnosed in 2008 at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. His symptoms included white stools and jaundice.
“Basically the toxins were staying in his liver and poisoning him,” said Krueger, who was a 20-year-old single mother at that time, and feeling way out of her comfort zone.
Tayten underwent a Kasai procedure, which involves removing blocked bile ducts and the gallbladder, and replacing them with a segment of the small intestine.
“It was stressful,” said Tayten’s maternal grandmother, Michele Losselyong of the Town of Buchanan. “You just took it day by day. One thing the doctors didn’t have any answers for were the survival rate or the outcome because everybody’s body reacts differently. … From what I recall, his chances were slim to none.”
After the procedure, Tayten spent a considerable amount of time at the Children’s Hospital. Every time he spiked a fever, which was frequent until he was about 21/2 years old, it landed him in the hospital for a minimum of 48 hours.
There never was a question of if Tayten would need a liver transplant, but when, Krueger said.
Harvesting a miracle
Shortly after Tayten’s fifth birthday he was placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing waiting list.
“They said it could take just one more (fever) and he could be pushed off the edge,” said Krueger.
She began the process of securing a living donor, and quickly found one in Tayten’s grandmother, Amy Krueger of Darboy, who was scheduled to donate a portion of her liver at the start of the year. Unfortunately, Amy was among the less than 2 percent of people in the country whose livers cannot be harvested.
“That day I was completely devastated,” Amy said. “It was rough not being able to help. I felt like I disappointed Katie and Tayten and the rest of the family.”
Losselyong said the news that the transplant wouldn’t happen was kind of like dealing with a death. “It took us all a good two weeks to come to grips with it,” she said.
Krueger said a new search began three or four weeks later. In March, she started posting regular updates on the Team Tayten Facebook page, which has more than 2,500 followers.
“It gave people that extra push to want to help,” Krueger said. “The transplant coordinator said she hadn’t seen a response like that before.”
Ultimately it was Tayten’s Aunt Chelsie who was a match, something determined by blood type and body size. Peterson and her husband, Jim, put plans to have children on hold to help “Tater.”
“I can’t imagine bringing another child into this world knowing there’s another sick child that’s already here,” Peterson said. “I’m thankful I was able to help with him and make him better. Now I feel we’re ready to eventually have kids.”
On Oct. 7, family who gathered in the waiting room at the Children’s Hospital cried when they learned this surgery was approved. “We were so happy,” Amy Krueger said. “It was so awesome.”
Tayten, who is doing well, slowly gaining weight and making weekly visits to Children’s Hospital for testing, shares an identical scar on his stomach with his aunt.
“(Chelsie) gave me something you can’t put a price on,” Krueger said with tears filling her eyes. “She gave (Tayten) life. I really don’t have words for it. I could never repay her for it.”
Peterson wouldn’t want her to.
— Cheryl Anderson: 920-993-1000, ext. 249, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @chermanderson
The liver is one of the largest and most complex organs in the body, weighing about three pounds in adults and made up of a spongy mass of wedge-shaped lobes. The liver has numerous functions necessary for life, including processing carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and storing vitamins. The liver processes nutrients absorbed from food in the intestines and turns them into materials that the body needs for life.
For more information on organ donations, go to http://unos.org.