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'The gift of life': Donors ensure every child waiting for liver transplant will likely get one this year

Around 100 people considered becoming donors for 10 kids on the waitlist
'The gift of life': Donors ensure every child waiting on a liver transplant will likely get one this year
Posted at 10:01 PM, Dec 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-21 00:25:34-05

DENVER — In September, Children's Hospital Colorado asked healthy adults to consider donating part of their liver. An estimated 100 people responded, meaning the 10 children on the transplant waitlist will likely receive the life-saving gift.

“Children's Hospital has had more people listed for transplant than in the past recently. And what we know is that children, and especially babies, do excellently with a living donor liver transplantation," said Dr. Whitney Jackson, who works at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.

Jackson evaluates potential donors, including the ones who answered the request from Children's Hospital Colorado.

“The process of coming forward as a living donor starts with somebody just showing an interest in it," said Jackson. “Something that is really unique these days is getting to meet people who truly just want to help somebody in need and save somebody's life. You don't always get to hear stories that are so altruistic and giving these days.”

The people who were selected as donors in response to Children's Hospital Colorado are nondirected living donors.

“A nondirected donor is a completely healthy person who steps forward to the University of Colorado or another transplant center and wants to give a piece of their liver to anybody in need," Jackson explained. “We see people who are as sick as they could possibly get, and you learn how delicate life is and the process of caring for people. And then you see people get a second chance at life, and it just puts everything into perspective.”

Lyndsey Engelstad is one of the people who donated part of their liver for the kids on the transplant list. Her surgery was in November, and from what she knows, the recipient is at home and recovering well.

“They took my left lateral segment, which is like the little pointy part, which is usually reserved for kids about two and under just because of the size," Engelstad said. “I was part of this first six [donor surgeries]. There was another one that was occurring this month. And then the other three were probably going to be in the spring, and then that cleared the list.”

Engelstad, who works with Donor Alliance, said her two young children played a role in her decision to donate.

“If that was my kiddo on the waitlist and I wasn't able to donate for whatever reason, I would hope that somebody would be able to," said Engelstad. “We hear a lot about donation, and we always hear about how it's after death. And that's kind of what most people know about organ and tissue donation. With liver and kidney [donation], we're able to do that and still go about our normal lives. And I think it's just something that's not really talked about a whole lot.”

Engelstad said the regenerative quality of the liver is incredible.

“The rest of my liver will grow back into that space. And with the recipient, it'll grow with them as they grow," said Engelstad.

Engelstad did not tell many people she was donating part of her liver and did not want to call attention to her surgery. However, during the process, she realized how important it is to promote the potential for organ donation.

"Giving the gift of life, that's what donation is all about is giving somebody another shot and giving somebody a chance at life. Especially someone who's so young, that hasn't even got to experience life yet," said Engelstad.

UCHealth has more information about becoming a liver or kidney donor on its website.

Donors ensure every kid on liver transplant list will likely get one this year

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