Albany teen seeks second liver transplant
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Chrystee Houser is hoping for a second miracle. Fifteen years ago, Houser’s son Rhyson was just 10 months old when his failing liver was replaced with a healthy one from a donor.
Now, that liver is failing, and Rhyson and his family are hoping for another.
“I’m very proud of him. He’s still going to school full time, and he’s not falling behind in school,” Chrystee Houser said.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, about 114,575 people in the United States are waiting for an organ transplant. About 10 percent of those waiting for an organ — 13,792 people — are waiting for a new liver like Rhyson. In Oregon, 153 people are on the waiting list for a liver, said Leslie Brock of Donate Life Northwest.
How long Rhyson will have to wait depends on how sick he is and if there’s a donor available who is a match for his needs, Brock said.
Rhyson was put on the national organ donor list for a liver two weeks ago, said Chrystee Houser, an Albany resident who grew up in Eugene. The wait for a new liver and a pending second transplant are a roller coaster ride she hoped the family wouldn’t have to go through again.
Fifteen years ago, The Register-Guard published a story about Rhyson’s first liver transplant in 2003. He was diagnosed with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency at 9 months. The disease is a genetic disorder that causes a protein deficiency leading to scarring of the liver and a buildup of fluid in the abdomen. It also can cause lung and breathing problems. In order to develop the disease, a person has to inherit the gene from both parents.
For Rhyson, the disease meant he had cirrhosis of the liver and needed a liver transplant as a baby. He was so sick at the time that he was listed in the No. 1 spot on the donor wait list, his mother said. His father, who was a match, was about to prep for surgery when a donor was found, a 15-year-old girl in Idaho who had died.
Once Rhyson received his new liver, his health improved greatly, but his liver enzymes were never quite normal — always higher than they should have been, Chrystee Houser said. After struggling to find the right medication and dosage, doctors decided that since his body wasn’t rejecting the liver, Rhyson’s elevated enzymes might just be a new normal for him. He continued to take medications to control the enzyme levels, went to school, enjoyed playing tennis and earned a black belt in taekwondo.
About five years ago, doctors noticed scarring on Rhyson’s liver, Chrystee Houser said. He started infusions of medication to help prevent the scarring, but it didn’t help. Three years later, Chrystee Houser received a call from Rhyson’s doctors at Stanford Medical Center in California. His last blood test showed that his body was rejecting the donor liver and the family needed to get Rhyson to Stanford as quickly as possible.
After two weeks, doctors were able to stabilize Rhyson with additional drugs to help fight the rejection process. They sent him home, but the anti-rejection drugs started to take a toll on his kidneys. In late July, Rhyson was rushed to the hospital from a Boy Scout camping trip. His kidneys were failing, and the liver would have to be replaced with a whole liver from a deceased donor. He’s too ill for a piece of a liver from a living donor to work.
Dr. Charles Rosen, director of the transplant center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and a liver transplant doctor, said it’s not unusual for a patient to need a second liver transplant. The need for a second transplant depends on the patient and the donated organ, said Rosen, who has not seen or treated Rhyson. Some people may be able to go through life needing one transplant, others may need a second transplant.
Rosen said the younger and healthier a person is when they get any transplant, whether it’s their first or a second, the better their chances of a successful surgery. A transplant surgery can take two to 5 1/2 hours, Rosen said. The surgery for a second transplant can take three to 6 1/2 hours. It then takes about three to four months for a patient to start to feel normal.
Rhyson and his family now are trying to beat the clock by keeping his kidneys as healthy as possible while waiting for a new donor liver, Chrystee Houser said.
He is taking more than a dozen medications and must drink 64 ounces or half a gallon of water daily for his kidneys. The extra water and kidney problems cause Rhyson’s body to swell, which leaves him very uncomfortable by the end of the day, his mother said.
Some days are harder than others, Chrystee Houser said. There are times when Rhyson just doesn’t feel well enough to do more than lay on the couch. Last week, he had to stay home from school because of a high fever.
“He’s a trouper,” she said of her son, who knows the risks behind the transplant surgery and what might happen if a liver doesn’t become available.
Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com