BLOOMINGTON, IND. — October is Liver Awareness Month, which is the month used by the American Liver Foundation to raise public awareness of the importance of liver health. More than 30 million Americans have one form or another of liver disease. This October a Georgia family is thrilled to be celebrating a liver transplant anniversary and their daughter’s now healthy liver.
Kate Service was born on May 31, 2008, to adoring parents, William and Lisa Service. They, and their three-year-old son Owen, were thrilled to welcome this beautiful baby girl to their family. The first year of Kate’s life seemed normal to William and Lisa. Life was hectic, but manageable for this Cumming, Georgia, family. However in May 2009, Kate’s pediatrician ordered blood work to try and find answers to Kate’s slow growth. These tests showed Kate had elevated liver enzymes, and for the next 18 months Kate was taken to numerous appointments to be checked by various specialists. During this time, baby Kate endured blood work every few weeks, ultrasounds and even a liver biopsy.
At the end of 18 months of tests and consultations, the doctors still had no answers. And eventually, Kate’s enzyme levels returned to normal. Kate was very small for her age, but otherwise was perfectly normal. The specialist appointments were stopped, and the Service family resumed their normal daily activities.
In January 2013, Kate caught a stomach virus. However, unlike other kids who were suffering from the same bug, Kate did not rebound quickly and once again, blood work was ordered. William and Lisa were told this virus had caused her liver numbers to escalate. But again, there were no solid answers. Kate recovered on her own, but the doctors were not any closer to an answer.
Two months later Kate caught another stomach bug, but this time she was admitted to the hospital for tests and observation. For two days, Kate’s liver levels skyrocketed and by the morning of day three, Kate was transported to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston and immediately admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit. Once again, Kate began to recover on her own; however, the specialists at Egleston discovered her liver had already suffered significant damage … Kate was in liver failure. On March 31st, William and Lisa were told a liver transplant was Kate’s best option to have a full and long life.
This was not news the family expected to hear. There were many questions that needed answers, and there were many preparations to be made. One of the looming issues surrounding Kate’s newly discovered need for a liver transplant was the financial implication for the family. In May 2013, William called the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) to learn more about how this national organization might be able to help. Several weeks later, a COTA fundraising specialist travelled to Georgia and trained the COTA for Kate S team of volunteers who immediately began raising funds for transplant-related expenses. By May 30th, Kate was officially listed through the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) as needing a liver.
William and Lisa admit hearing the news put them in an “altered state.” They acknowledge that once reality hit they began contemplating the immense financial implications of Kate’s liver failure diagnosis. “We started thinking not just about the initial costs, but the fact this will never go away. As Kate grows up to be an adult, she will need the security of knowing she has help,” William and Lisa said.
“COTA gave us the avenue to accept help and raise funds for now, and for the future, without having to worry about the impact that would result from raising money on our own,” they said. Kate’s devoted team of COTA volunteers decided to use a William Shakespeare quote as the theme for their COTA for Kate S fundraising efforts … “And though she be but little, she is fierce!”
Kate was fortunate to be able to return home and resume her life while the family waited for the call telling them a liver had been found. During these months, she regularly returned to the hospital for tests and evaluations. Her team of specialists decided as long as Kate did not get sick, her liver could sustain her until a donor could be found. But they still had no exact diagnosis as to why her liver failed.
On October 1, 2013, while Kate was in the hospital (once again) recovering from a stomach bug, the Service family got the call … a donor liver had become available. On October 2nd, Kate received her new liver, and her second chance at life. Kate’s transplant recovery went smoothly. Kate was able to return home one week post-transplant. In January 2014, Kate returned to her kindergarten classroom and to her dance classes.
According to William and Lisa, “It is amazing to us, miraculous in fact, that doctors and nurses can do this … They can perform a medical procedure that literally saved our little girl’s life.”
“The people who have gone out of their way to help, the support we have received, the fact that a transplant is possible and that amazing little person who greets you when you get home with a big hug … these are all miracles. It is also a miracle that one family, during what has to be an impossible-to-imagine time, can choose organ donation and give the gift of life to another family.”
Today, Kate still loves going to dance class and playing with her friends. She continues to surprise her parents every day with her strength and her positive outlook. Kate has adjusted to taking her daily, transplant-related medications and has simply returned to her normal, fierce self.
For more information about the Children’s Organ Transplant Association, or to find a COTA family in your area, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.