Living liver donation saves child with a rare disease

Mom donates part of her liver to baby daughter

CLEVELAND - When Kenace Hunt was born, doctors knew right away that something wasn't right. Her bilirubin counts were up, and stayed there. She wasn't gaining weight, her skin constantly itched and she couldn't sleep. Then at seven months, a traumatic visit to the emergency room led to a terrible diagnosis: Kenace had progressive familial intraheptic cholestasis, type 2 - or PFIC 2. The prognosis was death, if Kenace didn't get a new liver. At the time of diagnosis, Kenace was 9 months old and weighed only 13 pounds.

Months later Kenace was added to the transplant list, but wasn't very high up on the list because she'd been doing a little better with other interventions.

It looked like she might be waiting a long time for the needed transplant. Her parents then learned about the option of a living liver transplant, and that if there was a good match, one of them could donate a part of their liver to Kenace.

Shelley Hunt was a good match for her daughter, and was eager to move forward with the surgery. No one wanted to wait until Kenace got sicker to do the surgery.

This past March 17, the transplant occurred at the Cleveland Clinic.

Sean Hunt remembers staying with Kenace the night before the transplant. His wife was in a different part of the hospital, waiting for her surgery. It was an anxious time for the family, including their other two daughters - 9 year old twins Erin and Eres. 

The Cleveland Clinic is one of only a handful of medical centers in the country that can do a living liver transplant.

In 2013, there were 6,455 liver transplants in the US, only 252 of them were living liver transplants. It is a very challenging surgery. But it is possible because of the liver's unique ability to regenerate.

A team of doctors took about 20 percent of Shelley's liver. After removing Kenace's diseased liver, they transplanted her mother's into her, and saw that it began functioning immediately. Shelley's liver will eventually grow to it's full size, and Kenace's new liver will grow with her. 

Just two months after the transplant, Kenace is doing well, now able to enjoy normal activities and play with her older sisters. While she will stay on anti-rejection medications, her prognosis is very good. Next week she'll celebrate her second birthday. And this Mother's Day takes on new meaning for Shelley, who gave her daughter life - twice.


Print this article Back to Top