BY JANET ZIMMERMAN STAFF WRITER August 30, 2013; 08:15 PM
Joshua Bauer is only 7 months old, but already he has angel — one who saved his life.
Joshua, who lives with his mother, Michelle, in Riverside, was diagnosed in April with a rare condition that damaged his liver and kept his body from ridding itself of toxins. Without an organ transplant, doctors said, he would die.
But finding a suitable donor would be hard. That person would need to have O positive blood like Joshua’s and be small-boned enough that the new organ would fit in his tiny frame.
His family put out the call for donors, turning to social media for help. About 30 people responded, but none was a match. In early August, their hopes for a liver from a baby who had died were dashed when doctors decided at the last minute that the match wasn’t close enough.
VIDEO: 7-month-old saved by friend’s liver donation
That’s when Michelle Bauer’s friend stepped in. Bauer and Trinity Hollingsworth, 24, of Moreno Valley, had known each other casually but bonded last year when they were pregnant together, both with their first babies.
Hollingsworth was willing to make the sacrifice for her friend’s son.
“I have an 8-month-old who’s healthy, and I look at the 7-month-old who is dying right in front of his mom’s eyes. I want Michelle to have the same blessing I have with my daughter every day,” Hollingsworth said Thursday, Aug. 29, from her bed at Keck Hospital of USC in Los Angeles, where she was recovering after doctors harvested part of her liver. “I want her to be able to experience the mommy life.”
Joshua was born in January, a normal, healthy boy who weighed five pounds.
It was flu season, and doctors told Michelle and her husband, whom she is divorcing, to keep their baby inside and away from crowds. His skin was yellow from jaundice, which is not unusual for newborns, and they were told to keep an eye on it, Bauer remembered.
Three months later, at a family gathering for Easter, Joshua’s grandparents were surprised at how yellow his skin was, a result of bile building up in his system. A doctor visit soon after revealed the diagnosis: biliary atresia, a blockage of the bile ducts that carry waste out of the body. The condition affects about one in 18,000 babies nationwide, but the cause is unknown.
“He was a happy baby, he ate normally. No one knew he was sick,” said Bauer, 30.
Joshua underwent surgery to fix the blockage.
“When they got in there they realized it had been missed too long, so he had a lot of liver damage,” she said.
The next months were spent in and out of the hospital. Joshua grew more yellow, toxins built up in his bloodstream and his belly distended from two pounds of accumulated fluid. He was about half the weight of a typical baby his age and often was mistaken for a newborn.
Despite the discomfort, Joshua’s sweet smile never dimmed — until about two weeks ago, his mother said.
It hurt him to be held and have his diaper changed. In the meantime, Trinity’s 8-month-old daughter, Adysin, was crawling and pulling herself up.
On Tuesday, Aug. 27, Hollingsworth was wheeled into an operating room at Keck Hospital. It took four hours for a surgeon to remove a quarter of her liver, which was packed on ice and transported seven miles by officials with the United Network for Organ Sharing.
At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Dr. Yuri Genyk, director of abdominal organ transplants, was scrubbed and ready for the six-hour surgery that would make Joshua whole.
About 800 liver transplants are performed each year in the Southwest; 600 more people die waiting for an organ, he said.
Hollingsworth’s gift to Joshua was the hospital’s 100th living donor transplant.
“He has an excellent chance of growing up normally,” Genyk said.
A LIFE SAVED
Joshua’s new liver will grow with him and in a couple of weeks, he will no longer look like the sick baby he was. Hollingsworth’s liver will regenerate itself by Halloween.
“What Trinity did, she saved his life because he was really, really, really sick,” Genyk said.
Two days after the surgery, Joshua was sedated and on a ventilator to allow his body to heal. He will be on anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life. A pink and blue knit cap covered his head and his tiny fists poked from beneath a blanket as he stirred.
His mother stood next to the crib, watching him. Within hours of surgery, she was surprised to see that his skin was no longer yellow.
She is awed by Hollingsworth’s donation.
“It’s like a miracle,” Bauer said. “She’s saving his life. Without the transplant he probably wouldn’t make it to a year.”
The family calls Hollingsworth “Josh’s angel,” which seems fitting because of the angel wing tattoos on her back.
On Thursday, Hollingsworth was moving slowly, with an incision running from her sternum to her belly button.
Hollingsworth, a medical assistant who had been looking for work, is expected to stay in the hospital for a week. For two months after she’s released, she won’t be able to lift her daughter, so she’ll have to rely on her boyfriend and her family for help.
The pain and inconvenience was worth it, she said, especially when she sees pictures of an already-healthier Joshua. She and Bauer joke that they’ll grow up to be boyfriend and girlfriend.
Hollingsworth hopes news of what she did will prompt more people to help those who need it, whether it’s an organ donation or a handout to the needy.
“I would hope somebody would do the same if my daughter was sick,” she said.
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