5-Month-Old Boy With Rare Disease Finds Liver Match Minutes After Joining Donor List
The match was so quick doctors had not even told Daniel McCabe's parents he'd been added to the donor list.
When Dr. Jeffrey Brown walked into 5-month-old Daniel McCabe's hospital room on December 13, he was silent.
"I thought it was really bad news," Melody McCabe, Daniel's mom, told InsideEdition.com.
But it wasn't. The news was so good and so unbelievable that Dr. Brown just couldn't find the words.
"He told me, 'Daniel was listed [on the donor registry] this morning,'" McCabe recalled. "Then he said, 'He has a liver.'"
It had taken just 40 minutes for the baby, who has a rare liver disease, to find a donor. It was so quick that the doctor hadn't even had the chance to tell Daniel's parents he'd been added to the donor list.
"I found out at the same time that he was listed and that he'd got his liver - that was the most shocking," McCabe said. "I knew that it took an average of 86 days to be matched with a donor. I kind of expected to stay here for several months."
McCabe and her son had traveled from Milwaukee to Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago on December 7 so that he could get treatment for biliary atresia, a condition that means his bile ducts in the liver do not have normal openings.
The condition, which he was born with, left his skin yellow and his body so malnourished that he sustained broken ribs without his parents knowing.
"Looking back, the doctors didn't say how sick he was," McCabe said. "They never really conveyed the gravity."
But when surgical procedures failed to work, the McCabes knew their son would need a new liver.
That process usually takes weeks, months or even years, according to Lurie Children's Organ Procurement Specialist Justin Boese.
"The shortest wait time I have seen here was at least 12 hours, so 40 minutes is very unusual," he said. "This is one of the most incredible things that has happened in the five years that I’ve been here."
In fact, nationwide, only 43 other people have waited less than 40 minutes for a match in the past five years.
“It just goes to show the importance of organ donation," Boese said. "There aren’t always organs available, and we were very, very fortunate in this circumstance that we were able to list Daniel as quickly as we were able to and that at almost exactly that moment a liver was becoming available elsewhere in our region.”
When McCabe learned about her son's new liver on December 13, her joy swiftly turned to sadness. Due to how quickly doctors had found a match, she knew the donor was deceased.
"I didn't know if it was a child or an adult at that point," she said. "I was so sad for the family. I was happy for Daniel but I felt grief because of this other family's tragedy."
She has since found out that the donor was a male in his 30s. The stranger's liver was divided between Daniel and a male adult, McCabe said.
"We think about the donor family every day," McCabe said, adding that she would "absolutely" love to meet them, if they would ever like to.
A day after the match, Daniel underwent the six-hour surgery. The 8-pound baby was one of the smallest patients surgeons at the Chicago hospital had ever worked on.
“Everything went well, and Daniel is recovering nicely," one of his surgeons, Dr. Riccardo Superina, said in a statement. "He’ll be here another three weeks or so. We expect that he will recover with time and good nutrition and will probably regain full function."
His mom noticed the new liver's effects nearly immediately.
"Within the first few hours, we could see the change in his skin color. This was the first time that I had seen him with what should've been his normal color," she said.
The family hopes Daniel will be out of the ICU this week, and his mom wants others to heed the message of their Christmas miracle.
"When you leave this world, you're not taking your body parts with you," she said. "If you're on the fence about donation, please think about it. If you're relatively healthy, you can help as many as 60 other people."
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