Aunt donates part of liver to ailing boy

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 18, 2002

MEADVILLE — When Sue Stebbins learned that her nephew wasgravely ill at only a few months old, she made the decision to dowhat she could to give him a chance at life.

Three weeks ago Stebbins became a living organ donor when aportion of her liver was removed and given to Keith Gaisford, thealmost nine-month-old son of Scott and Martha Gaisford ofDallas.

Doctors discovered during the youngster’s two-month check upthat his liver was not functioning correctly, and he needed atransplant.

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Keith underwent surgery in July 2001 but it was unsuccessful, sowith a grim outlook, doctors and family members began looking foran organ donor.

“In November, I went for my physical and asked them to test myblood type to see if I was a match, because his parents weren’t andI knew he needed a liver to live,” said Stebbins.

With an O positive blood type, Stebbins was a match. She calledher sister-in-law and told her she would donate part of herliver.

“She said ‘We can’t ask you to do that,’ and I said ‘I’m notasking you, I’m telling you I want to be a donor,'” Stebbinsrecalled of the conversation. Martha Gaisford is the sister ofStebbins’ husband, Eddie.

Stebbins continued the tests to make sure she was an eligibledonor for Keith. After sonograms, chest x-rays and tissue samplesat Baylor Medical Center in Dallas showed she matched her nephew’sbiological make-up perfectly, Stebbins was ready for thesurgery.

“What amazed everyone is that she is no blood kin, but she stillmatched,” said her husband.

Even The Discovery Channel was surprised by the unlikelyscenario that was unfolding, and contacted the hospital and familymembers for permission to follow the surgery that took placeJanuary 28.

A film crew watched closely as doctors in Dallas performed theseven-hour surgery on Stebbins to remove one-third of her liver. Itwas transported to Children’s Medical Center, where little Keithreceived it during an eight-hour procedure.

“They removed his liver and saw that the only healthy part of itwas about the size of a pin, and it was twice the normal size,”said Eddie Stebbins.

After three weeks, family members are still praying for Keith torecover from the possibly life-saving surgery.

“He’s still critical. The liver’s doing good, but he’s developeda septic infection,” Eddie Stebbins’ said.

Following a week’s stay in Dallas with her daughter, Heather,Stebbins was able to return home to her other daughter, Daniella,12, who was glad to see her mother’s face once again.

“I worried a lot, especially on the day of the surgery,” saidDaniella, who has been working hard to keep her mother comfortableduring recovery, which will take about two months.

Stebbins said she is trying to stay relaxed during theeight-week period that it takes for her liver to grow back, but shefinds that difficult because of her concern for her nephew, whoremains in an intensive care unit.

“His mother has been calling us two or three times a day though,giving me updates, so I’ll know exactly how Keith’s doing,” saidStebbins.

Even though Keith suffered a major setback when he had toundergo a third surgery last week to reconnect a bile duct,Stebbins and her husband have a positive outlook.

“It’s looking better. At the first of last week, we didn’t thinkhe was going to make it, but now he’s doing better,” said EddieStebbins.

Keith’s parents have seldom left his side during the entireordeal, and prayers have been said daily for the young boy. Thefamily looks forward to Keith enjoying a normal life.

“He will have to take immunosuppressants the rest of his life tokeep the body from rejecting the liver, but other than that heshould be just fine,” Stebbins said.

She pointed out how the surgery not only changed Keith’s life,but also her own. Stebbins now has a new appreciation for life andhow fragile it can be.

She and her family had never thought about the importance ofbeing organ donors, but all that has changed.