Family Travels More Than 7,000 Miles for Father-to-Son Liver Transplant

Before Omran Alsayegh came to the United States, he knew surgery would be the easy part of the father-to-son living donor liver transplant he was about to undergo.

Alsayegh family From left to right: Manal, Humaid and Omran Alsayegh

"He was not scared or nervous at all," said his wife, Manal Alsayegh. "He knew that he was in the right hands and that this was the right thing to do, and he did it."

The couple came to the University of Chicago from the United Arab Emirates in January 2007 desperate to help their 2-year-old son, Humaid, who suffered from cholestatic liver disease, a condition that blocked the flow of bile in the liver and stunted growth.

Manal worked with the University of Chicago Medicine's Center for International Patients to coordinate their trip abroad. She and her husband couldn't bear to wait for Humaid to move up on the long list of patients seeking a donated liver. Their son's skin and eyes had turned yellow with jaundice, and they were worried that further developmental delays would affect him later in life.

"Humaid's liver condition was affecting his other organs and it left him with significant vitamin deficiencies," said Ruba Azzam, MD, a liver specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital. "We always ask patients if there's a potential living donor because it makes it possible to address these issues much sooner."

The Alsayeghs learned that Omran could give his son a shot at life, but only by facing a daunting challenge: losing enough weight to become a suitable liver donor for transplantation surgery.

With diet improvements and grueling, 12-hour daily exercise sessions, Omran met his goal of losing 100 lbs. in just six months.

"I was determined," he said. "I knew it was what my son needed."

When the family arrived in Chicago, the Center for International Patients supplied them with an interpreter and a patient liaison.

Ruba Azzam, Humaid and Omran Alsayegh Dr. Azzam watches little Humaid as he listens to his father's heart with a stethoscope.

After being evaluated by Dr. Azzam and Giuliano Testa, MD, former director of liver transplantation and hepatobiliary surgery, father and son were scheduled for surgery.

"We did the two operations in parallel," Testa said. "The sick liver from Humaid was removed while we took the replacement organ from his father."

Coordinating with Michael Millis, MD, director of transplantation services, Testa worked rapidly so that Humaid's new liver stayed out the body for a minimal amount of time -- less than 20 minutes.

The family remained in Chicago for six months after the procedures. Several months later, the Center for International Patients enabled Azzam, originally from Jordan, to check in with them, as well as another patient in the Middle East.

"We have the medical expertise and the resources to perform these surgeries, and many other facilities around the world do not," she said. "Humaid's parents felt very secure knowing that I was in touch with his other doctors to follow up on his care once they returned home."

A year after the transplant, their son lives a normal life. There is one difference between Humaid and most of his peers, of which he is fully aware.

"Whose liver do you have?" his interpreter, Tony, asked in the hospital one afternoon.

"Daddy's, I have daddy's liver," Humaid said. "Not mine."

May 2008