Last summer, Traci and Russ Tigues’ world was turned upside down when they learned their infant son Brodie needed a life-saving liver transplant.
The Tigues, who live in Brunswick, had spent a couple of idyllic summer weekends at a friend’s lake house with Brodie and his 4-year-old sister, Harper. But after each car ride, Brodie had unexplained bruises on the back of his head. And when Traci just barely nicked his skin when trimming a finger nail, bleeding continued for more than two days.
“As luck would have it, our regular pediatrician wasn’t available, so we booked a same-day appointment with Cleveland Clinic Children’s pediatrician Karen Vargo in Broadview Heights. Dr. Vargo was so kind, and asked so many questions. She was very perceptive and, when she didn’t like what she was hearing and seeing, she told me she was going to call a specialist.”
Rather than wait for Brodie’s scheduled 4-month check-up, Traci called his pediatrician’s office.
“As luck would have it, our regular pediatrician wasn’t available, so we booked a same-day appointment with Cleveland Clinic Children’s pediatrician Karen Vargo,” says Traci. “Dr. Vargo was so kind, and asked so many questions. She was very perceptive and, when she didn’t like what she was hearing and seeing, she told me she was going to call a specialist.”
That phone call with a pediatric specialist led the Tigues to Cleveland Clinic’s main campus. There, Brodie was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit under the care of Kadakkal Radhakrishnan, MD, a pediatric liver specialist and gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s.
Brodie’s symptoms (yellow skin, bruises, failure of his blood to clot), along with the results of a variety of lab tests and a diagnostic surgery, led to a diagnosis of biliary atresia. This rare disease of the bile ducts affects just 300 babies a year in the United States.
Bile, a digestive liquid made in the liver, typically travels through the bile ducts to the small intestine, where it helps digest fats. Babies with biliary atresia are born without the bile duct, resulting in bile remaining in the liver, where it rapidly destroys liver cells and causes cirrhosis (scarring).
In some cases, a surgery using part of the infant’s intestine can be used to replace the bile duct. But Brodie’s liver already was so badly damaged that the only option for him was a liver transplant.
“We didn’t have much time, so a live donor was the best option for Brodie. There is no waiting list for live donors. It’s just a matter of identifying those who might be a match, then conducting a series of tests,” says Cleveland Clinic transplant surgeon Koji Hashimoto, MD.
Throughout the ordeal, Traci was posting updates about Brodie on social media. When she posted that he needed a live donor, the response was overwhelming — Cleveland Clinic’s transplant office received calls from 90 volunteer donors in just a few days.
Traci and Brodie had the same blood type, so it was possible she could be a match. However, the transplant team cautioned Traci that, as the donor, she would not be able to be Brodie’s caregiver since she would be a patient herself.
“An intense round of tests showed I was a perfect match. Our insurance would cover testing of others, but that would take additional time Brodie really didn’t have,” says Traci. Ultimately, the Tigues decided Traci would be the donor, and, when Brodie was just 5 months and five days old, he and his mom underwent transplant surgery.
Dr. Hashimoto and a team of transplant professionals operated on Brodie for 121⁄2 hours, removing his liver and replacing it with a sliver of his mom’s. Traci’s surgery to remove 30 percent of her liver took about five hours.
Warned in advance that Brodie would be unresponsive following surgery, Traci and Russ were thrilled when Brodie opened his eyes. He started trembling with excitement as soon as he heard their voices.
“This was a massive surgery. I credit the positive energy coming from Traci and Russ with helping Brodie respond so quickly,” says Dr. Hashimoto.
For the foreseeable future, Brodie will take a variety of immunosuppressant medications, and have frequent checkups. With his recovery proceeding according to plan and Brodie’s development progressing normally, his long-term prognosis is positive.
“The first time we met with him, Dr. Hashimoto told us there won’t be anything Brodie can’t do,” says Traci.
Brodie has already faced more challenges than many people do in an entire lifetime, and while he exemplifies “Tigue tough,” his journey continues.
Cleveland Clinic Children's ,
Digestive Disease & Surgery Institute