Baby saved by aunt's generosity

University of Chicago Medical Center resumes living-donor liver transplants

November 21, 2006

Thanksgiving came early for the Aguinaga-Robles family. Olga Robles, Alberto Aguinaga and their six children have much for which to be grateful. On Oct. 23, the youngest of the family, 10-month-old Selena Aguinaga received a living-donor liver transplant at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

When Selena's aunt, Trudy Robles, learned that neither of the girl's parents were a match, Robles immediately volunteered to be tested. "It just came out of my mouth," said Robles, who underwent a 3-hour surgery to donate part of her liver.

"Now the baby will have a second chance to live and maybe, down the line, experience what we experience as a big family," said Robles, who herself is a mother of three. She and Selena's mother are two of nine children.

At six weeks old, Selena was diagnosed with biliary atresia, malfunctioning of the bile ducts. The condition led to jaundice and other complications. A few months ago, doctors told Selena's parents that without the transplant, the child had a 30 percent chance of dying in three months.

Her parents' only daughter, Selena has cheated death several times. From February through May, she spent a total of 49 days in the hospital due to complications from her compromised liver, including pneumonia and battles with frequent infections.

"The situation was very dire because of infection," said Dr. Giuliano Testa, who performed the transplant surgery. "Each infection could have been deadly."

Timing was everything. “We had to catch the window of opportunity when she was free of infection,” said Testa, director of liver transplantation and hepatobiliary surgery. “It worked perfectly to not have to wait.”

The living donor is the best option, he said. In order for Selena to receive a whole liver, it would have to come from a deceased child of the same size.

Doctors at the University of Chicago Medical Center performed the world's first successful living-donor liver transplant in 1989 when Teresa Smith donated part of her liver to her then 21-month-old daughter Alyssa. Last May, Alyssa graduated from high school in San Antonio, Texas.

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