Cahterine Herridge shares her son's liver transplant story with Pittsburgh Magazine.
Most parents would willingly die for their child. But most don't get the chance to prove it. Not so for Catherine Herridge, 42, a national correspondant/weekend anchor for FOX News in Washington DC, who has covered such stories as the 2004 Democractic presidential race, the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, Hillary Rodham Clinton's first senatorial campaign and Princess Diana's death.
Even before the birth of her son Peter Hayes on December 30, 2005, she had "a very nagging feeling that he was sick of something was wrong." As a reporter she had learned to trust her instincts. It worked. On the second day of his life, Peter "became extermely jaundiced." The pediatrician began tests to eliminate the possibility the baby had biliary atresia, a rare condition involving a nonfunctioning or poorly functioning liver. "Six weeks later that's what he was diagnosed with," says his mother.
Herridge's sister, Dr. Margaret Herridge of Toronto, advised, "You really need to take that little boy to Pittsburgh because it's one of the best centers in the country and they pioneered this procedure." The "procedure was a liver transplant for the second son of Herridge and her husband, J.D. Hayes of Washington DC.
First, however, the boy underwent a Kasai procedure that "tries to re-establish bile drainage from the liver," says Dr. George V. Mazariegos, director of pediatric transplantation at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and director of the Hillman Center for Pediatric Transplantation, part of the UPMC Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute. The Kasai procedure sometimes allows a child to put off a transplant for several years and occasionally forever, but this was not the case for Peter.
By March 2006, Mazariegos had determined that Peter needed a transplant "probably in the next three months due to his deteriorating clinical condition." Though he was on the list to receive a donor liver, it became clear that he might die waiting. Herridge and her husband became canidates for liver donation. "It wasn't a hard decision to make," she says. "We were going to do the donation, or he was going to be dead by the end of the summer."
"Between 12% and 15% of patients on the waiting list for a liver will die before a donor can be found," says Dr. Amadeo Marcos, who performed the surgery to remove part of Herridge's liver to give to her son. But the good news is, UPMC's survival rate for liver transplants "is close to 100%," says Marcos, clinical chief of transplantation at the Starzl Transplantation Insitute and surgery professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
"She was a perfect match for the little recipient," Marcos says of Herridge.
Marco's main research interest involves weaning transplant patients off immunosuppressive drugs after transplant by infusing them with cells from the donor before a transplant. This "protocol" is still in the experimental stage with adult subjects, however, and not yet performed on children.
Just nine years ago, Marcos performed the first US adult-to-adult living-donor-liver transplant after which the recipient survived more than a year.
At UPMC Montefiore, Marcos removed about 20% of Herridge's liver-"about the size of your palm," he says. "The liver regenerates pretty fast," Marcos explains. "It's almost immediate." Meanwhile, over at Children's Hospital, Mazariegos and Dr. Rakesh Sindhi were removing Peter's diseased liver and putting in the section of liver provided by his mother. "It is challenging because of the technical constraints of the little recipient," Mazariegos says. "The segment of liver has to be reconnected with precision in terms of the arteries and veins that go in and the bile that drains out of the liver."
Once Peter's parents became aware of the urgent need for organ donors, they decided to let Greta Van Sustern of FOX News cover their transplant story. The number of patients waiting for livers in the US is currently at 17,471. The number of donors from January to November 2006 was 6,721, chiefly from the deceased. Mazariegos agreed to the TV coverage to acommodate the family and also to focus attention on transplantation and donation, which are not limited by age or many health conditions. Herridge received thousands of e-mails from viewers.
Seven months after surgery, Peter "is a very normaly baby boy" with a "very active lifestyle," says Mazariegos, who expects "the liver will serve him throughout his life."
But the critical period-the first year-continues through June. Peter is given an immunosuppressive drug to keep his body from rejecting the new liver, and so he is subject to infections. But as Mom reports, "He's standing up now. He's cruising around the furniture. He's starting to talk."
During this process, Herridge gained a new perspective on life:"When Peter was sick, I didn't know how much time I had left with him. I made a commitment to make every day count for him," she says. "And all of a sudden, a light bulb went off in my head: I realized that that applied to me as well."