Los Angeles – Ten-month-old Alondra Martinez was showing signs of end-stage liver disease and needed a transplant fast. Family members tried in vain to donate parts of their organs to save her, but they were incompatible.
For six months Alondra waited on a transplant list until she received a gift from a stranger — a 50-year-old mother from St. George, Utah (search).
Katie Hale had signed up two years ago to be a liver donor after researching online about how the organ can regenerate itself. Last month, she underwent a four-hour operation at USC University Hospital (search) where doctors harvested one-fifth of her liver for Alondra.
Evangelina Martinez was shocked when doctors told her they had found a living organ donor match.
"It's a miracle," Martinez said. "I'll be thankful all my life for my daughter."
On April 4, Hale met Alondra for the first time at Childrens Hospital, where the transplant took place. Hale wiped away tears when Alondra's mother appeared with the baby. The women embraced as Hale handed a white teddy bear to the child.
"It's probably the best feeling I've ever had seeing this little baby," Hale said.
More than 87,000 people are on the nation's organ transplant waiting list, and about 700 of them are 5 years old or younger, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (search).
Dr. Dan Thomas, medical director of the transplant program at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, noted that live liver donations are critical. Without them, "we have children who won't make it," Thomas said.
Shortly after Alondra was born, her parents noticed that she seemed jaundiced. After developing a hernia, Alondra was diagnosed with bilary atresia, a disease in which the ducts carrying bile from the liver to the intestine are blocked.
Alondra underwent surgery last summer to connect the intestine directly into the liver, providing a corridor for bile into the intestine. But she still needed a transplant to survive.
Hale, who has three grandchildren, including two who are the same age as Alondra, said she cannot help but feel a special connection to the little girl.
Prior to Monday, Hale had only seen her photo, thanks to an inscribed picture frame that Alondra's parents gave Hale during a hospital visit last weekend.
"We'll always keep in touch," Hale said.
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