PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — “Mikey’s amazing. He has taught me a lot about resilience.”
Those are the words of transplant surgeon Dr. George Mazariegos, a physician who has worked at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh since 1998.
Mikey Dugan graduated from high school this past spring despite being admitted to Children’s Hospital more than a dozen times in the past three years. He was there because cystic fibrosis before liver disease also wracked his young body.
“It’s like you are drunk, but you are not,” said Dugan. “I was tired. I was walking into walls. I had slurred speech, and it was scary.”
Enter Dr. Mazariegos and the transplant team at Children’s Hospital. But it wasn’t new lungs Mikey needed. It was a new liver.
“Through the miracle of transplant, or liver transplant, we are able to fix the liver and all of the other things get better,” Mazariegos explains. “The thinking gets better, the breathing gets better, his GI (gastrointestinal) tract gets better, the digestion, nutrition, and activity.”
But it took months to find a match.
Eventually, Mikey’s sister posted a plea on Facebook. A woman named Stephanie, who the family had never met, said she would be willing to donate a portion of her liver.
More remarkable was the fact that the perfect stranger who lived ten minutes from the Dugans was a perfect match for Mikey.
Mikey doesn’t know why Stephanie volunteered, but last month, she joined his family for a powerful Thanksgiving dinner. Mikey still gets a bit emotional when he talks about the last few months and a chance to meet his living donor.
“You guys,” Dugan said as paused to wipe tears from his eyes. He looked at Dr. Mazariegos and said, “You guys saved my life.”
It is a scene the doctor has seen many times during his career at Children’s.
“The real blessing is that children do great (with a liver transplant) as opposed to some of our adult patients, and that is because we really expect that this could be a transplant for a lifetime.”
The surgeons removed a portion of Stephanie’s liver and transplanted into Mike’s abdomen.
Dr. Mazariegos says both livers will grow back to full size and function.
“It’s exciting to see that that organ because of its regenerative ability. It is able to live and function well with good care and good adherence and good follow up.”
Donna Dugan says after years of wondering about her son’s health and well-being, they finally can think about an entirely different future together.
“Now, he is healthy, and we are going to be able to do so many things that we didn’t even think about,” says Mrs. Dugan. “We are going to live a normal life and we have to learn how to live a normal life and just do normal things and not worry about it.”
Mikey and his family are among the thousands who have received the gift of healing from Children’s Hospital.
Not all of them receive new organs, but Mikey knows he received a gift unlike any other he will ever receive.
“Probably an early Christmas present that is a once in a lifetime thing,” says Dugan.