Kenny and his mother have a lot in common, like their shared sense of humor or their mutual love of shopping. While every mother and son relationship is special, Kenny and his mom share a bond that is very unique—the kind of connection that's only truly understood by a small group of people.
An early start on life
Kenny was born six weeks premature in 1992 to proud first-time parents Nancy and Kevin Hadley. Like any new parents, Nancy and Kevin were nervous—there's so much to learn in those first few weeks and no one to teach you. The fact that Kenny was a tiny preemie just added to their uncertainty. Then, when the young couple was just starting to get the hang of parenting, everything changed.
At just 11 weeks old, Kenny started getting very sick and vomiting. His worried parents rushed him to a pediatrician, who sent them to a Boston hospital for further testing. It was here that Nancy and Kevin learned that Kenny had biliary atresia, a condition that caused his liver's bile duct to clog, creating a dangerous build up of toxins in his system. He quickly had surgery to open the clogged duct, but it was only a temporary solution; to grow up healthy and strong, Kenny would eventually need a liver transplant.
"The doctors put him on the waiting list for a new liver, but because of his small size and a lack of suitable organs, we were told the wait could take a long time," Nancy says. "But time was a luxury Kenny didn't have. We started researching other options and learned about a parent-to-child liver transplant that had recently been done at Boston Children's Hospital. It gave us a new sense of hope, which we desperately needed at the time."
Living donor transplant
A short time before Kenny had gotten sick, Boston Children's Pediatric Transplant Center had performed its first living-related donor transplant, where a small portion of a man's liver was removed and placed inside his infant daughter. (Because the liver can regenerate—or regrow itself—it's possible to remove a small portion of a healthy adult liver and place it into a sick child in some cases. In time the adult liver regrows to its original size, and the smaller, segmented piece grows with the child.)
A blood test and physical examination showed that Nancy had the right blood type and was healthy enough to donate a portion of her liver, so the Hadleys asked to be transferred to Boston Children's where they would become one of the Liver Transplant Program's earliest living donor cases.
"When Kenny first got sick, I found myself thinking, 'If there was anything I could do to make him better, I would,'" Nancy says. "And then, all of the sudden, there WAS something I could do. I really didn't even think twice about the decision; all I thought was 'let's go to Boston Children's.'"
Within a few weeks, both Kenny and Nancy underwent their operations without any serious complications. A month after coming to Boston and learning their child had a potentially fatal liver condition, the Hadleys were on their way home, with a healthy liver inside both mother and son.
A lasting connection
In the years that followed, the Hadleys learned what life with an organ transplant is like. They made sure Kenny stayed healthy with smart food choices, getting plenty of rest, avoiding crowded places with potential germs, monitoring his blood pressure, taking anti-rejection medicine daily and visiting the hospital every three months for the liver clinic check-ups.
Kenny is 21 years old now and just finishing up his junior year at Keene State College. "Everyone who knows our family says I sound and act just like my mom. I guess that’s not a bad thing,” Kenny says with a laugh. "She's a great mom who did so much for me. Thanks to her, I just celebrated my 20th anniversary of my transplant. I’m healthy and feeling great. I have a lot to be thankful for.”
And, after speaking with Nancy even for just a few minutes, it's clear that Kenny's admiration isn't one-sided. "Kenny has grown up to be such a wonderful, caring young man, I couldn't be more proud," Nancy says. "We've been through a lot as a family, but I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat. There's nothing more important to me than knowing he has a bright future ahead of him; giving up a small part of me to help make that happen was an easy trade."
Happy Mother's Day from all of us here at Thriving! If you'd like to read more patient stories like Kenny and Nancy's—or if you'd like to hear about new, interesting developments in the world of pediatric transplant medicine—make sure to follow the Pediatric Transplant Center on Facebook.