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Cooper Hanks was born to Kristen and Josh in Houston on April 14, 2010. Everything seemed normal until his parents were told their one-day-old son had high bilirubin numbers, which could have indicated jaundice but clearly was more serious.
Cooper initially was in intensive care. Then he was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia. He underwent a Kasai procedure so that bile could drain into his intestine.
After 16 months, his life under threat, the tiny baby needed a liver transplant. Fortunately, Cooper was one of the lucky ones. He got the transplant almost immediately.
All of this led to Kristen and Josh becoming leading supporters of the American Liver Foundation, working closely with our Desert Southwest Division.
For three years, Team Cooper has raised the most money at the annual Liver Life Walk in Houston. For the April 2013 walk, they raised more than $27,000. We are extremely grateful for their dedication and hard work.
And now, after being so desperately sick, Cooper is the face of hope for those with liver disease: He’s our 2013 National Liver Life Walk LIVEr Champion!
Kristen, after the Kasai procedure to counteract Biliary Atresia when Cooper was two months old, how was Cooper’s health?
His blood numbers improved but were never normal. Cooper stayed relatively stable except for a few times when he was hospitalized. His skin was yellow. He had ascites and so his belly was really big. We watched what he ate—but he never gained weight.
At this year’s Liver Life Walk in Houston in April: From left, Melissa McCracken, executive director of the American Liver Foundation’s Desert Southwest Division; Josh, Cooper and Kristen Hanks.
What happened that Cooper suddenly needed a transplant at 16 months?
Josh and I had spent the weekend at a wedding and my mom, who was caring for Cooper, said he was lethargic. When we took him to be examined, they said Cooper was dehydrated, had low blood pressure, a high fever and a really dangerous liver infection. He spent a week in the ICU at Texas Children’s Hospital. When they found he had E.coli in his blood and liver abscesses, they placed him on the transplant list.
Cooper in action…on his toy lawnmower
You must have been shocked.
I was in complete shock a lot of the time. We just kind of went through the motions. We kept asking whether Cooper would stay well enough to get the liver. When the liver doctor said she was going to pray for him that scared me.
There’s a shortage of organ donors. You must have been amazed they found a liver after a few hours.
Absolutely. They flew the liver to Houston and the transplant took place the next morning at 7. That was on August 17, 2011. So we’re about to celebrate the second anniversary since the transplant.
Congratulations, Kristen! After the transplant, how did Cooper look?
He still had an infection but his color was a lot better. We couldn’t believe he had a new liver. All those who had prayed for him, even strangers who heard about Cooper, were also impacted.
Incredible! What about your faith?
We always believed God was in control. It was a miracle that he received a liver. Josh and I talk about it every night, and pray for Cooper and for his health in front of him. He’s still too young to understand but he hears us. We also pray for the liver donor’s family.
What do you know about the donor?
I gathered that it was a child, the same age or same size as Cooper. The donor was a perfect match. The liver was the right size, the perfect shape.
How has Cooper been since the transplant?
The first year was tough. He was on 14 medicines. Now, he’s on standard rejection medicine. He’s a normal kid. You couldn’t tell there had been anything wrong, unless you look at his belly and see two scars. I still check into his eyes to see if he’s okay. I think I’ll do that forever.
Now that Cooper is three, what does he like to do?
While Josh and I are at work, my mom takes care of Cooper and he has lots of energy. He plays baseball, rides a bike and loves to play with a toy lawnmower. He watches TV shows like Mickey Mouse. There are kids on our block that he plays with. His muscles are stronger and he can climb on playground equipment.
You must be thrilled that Cooper is our 2013 National Liver Life Walk LIVEr Champion.
We’re honored. It’s important to have his story on the Liver Foundation’s website so people can read it.
When you’re saying your prayers and look at Cooper, like you say you do, what goes through your mind?
At first, Josh and I asked why this was happening. But we believe God had a plan for us. We’re a part of the Liver Foundation and we’ll never forget Cooper had a transplant. He’ll grow up with a good appreciation of organ donors, and understanding that he’s a miracle.
Okay, one last question. Is Cooper talking?
He’s talking a lot better over the past six months. He says interesting things for a three-year-old. He’ll give me a hug at night and say, “You’re the best, Mommy!”