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Quadruple Transplant Baby Has First Birthday

May 17, 1987

CHICAGO (AP) _ Meghann LaRocco celebrated her first birthday at a special party, five months after she became the youngest person ever to undergo four liver transplants.

″She was kind of mad at first because we woke her up from her nap,″ said Meghann’s father, Frank LaRocco. ″But once she got a taste of birthday cake, she was wide awake.″

The birthday party Saturday night was a fund-raiser aimed at defraying Meghann’s medical costs, said Jim Talerico, manager of Mama Luigi’s restaurant in suburban Bridgeview where the event was held.

LaRocco estimated about 150 people paid the $15 admission charge.

The restaurant donated its facilities and food for the event because thieves stole donation cans distributed several months ago to collect money for Meghann’s operations, Talerico said. A disc jockey service provided free entertainment and the bartender agreed to contribute his tips, he said.

Meghann underwent her first transplant Nov. 29 because she had biliary atresia, a usually fatal liver disease that leaves the bile ducts underdeveloped . Complications necessitated second and third transplants over the next few weeks.

The fourth liver was transplanted Dec. 30.

In March, Dr. Peter Whitington, director of pediatric liver transplantation at the University of Chicago, estimated the total cost of Meghann’s treatment at around $500,000.

But the LaRoccos’ medical insurance ran out in December, leaving the family with about $350,000 in medical bills, hospital officials said then.

The family still owes an estimated $166,000 to the hospital, said Meghann’s mother, Shirley LaRocco. And they face a cost of about $6,600 a month for a night-time nurse and equipment to help her breathe.

Meghann also must take an anti-rejection drug at a cost of about $145 a week, said LaRocco, 31, a dockworker who said he has taken on a second job as a carpenter to try to pay Meghann’s medical bills. He said he had searched in vain for a government program to help with financing.

″If I can’t afford it no more, I’ll just file (for) bankruptcy. Then they’ll have to support the whole family,″ he said in a radio interview.

The family, including Meghann’s 4-year-old sister Kimberly, lives in a small one-bedroom home on the city’s Southwest side.

″I never really thought we’d get to this point,″ Mrs. LaRocco said of Meghann’s first birthday. ″We still now live from day to day.″

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