A parent’s love knows no bounds. It goes on forever and ever. Sarah would’ve given anything to her children. Literally. She proved as much a year ago, when she donated part of her liver to save her son’s life.

Seeing Jack smile, run and bounce in his mother’s arms, it’s hard to believe how sick he was a short year ago. The state of his health was alarming to say the least. He was born with biliary atresia, which meant that the ducts that carried bile from his liver to his small intestine were narrowing. Without treatment, he was not expected to live past the age of 2. The news came as quite a shock to his parents, Sarah and Jayson.

One name represented a source of hope for them: Kasai. A procedure that promised to make all the difference for Jack. But in the end, it didn’t work. Jack’s liver continued to deteriorate. It was only a matter of time before it would shut down altogether. 

It became clear that there was only one alternative left. 

A liver transplant was Jack’s last chance. He was put on the list for a donor liver when he was 6 months old. Ten months went by. The wait was excruciating.

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Unconditional love 

Things were going downhill fast. Too fast for Sarah and Jayson to keep hoping that a new liver would become available for their son. Knowing how scarce donor livers were, they decided to go for broke. One of them would give part of their liver to save him. Because Sarah and Jack shared the same blood type, it had to be her. 

A liver transplant is no small matter. There’s a lot to it. But giving a part of my liver to my son only made sense to me. There was nothing to think about. It was about his life. Not mine. 

Sarah Tessier, Jack’s mom

Time was playing against Jack. In two ways. It was important to act quickly, but they also had to wait for his body to grow to be able to accommodate the transplanted organ. Sarah and Jayson put all their trust in the hands of their son’s doctor, Dr. Massimiliano Paganelli , a researcher and pediatric gastroenterologist at Sainte-Justine. 

On February 15, 2018, a quarter of Sarah’s liver was removed during an operation that lasted several hours. Not long after that, Jack, by then 15 months old, had his failing liver taken out in preparation for the new, functioning replacement. He spent a month in the hospital recovering after the procedure. 

I knew they’d be able to pull off this highly complex medical procedure at Sainte-Justine. Thanks to the expertise, know-how and facilities that are made possible by donors, I was confident that Jack would have the best possible chance of survival and a better quality of life.

Sarah Tessier, Jack’s mom

Shaping a child’s future: It takes a village

Jack is now 2 years old and doing very well, thanks to Sainte-Justine. 

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Sainte-Justine is love with a capital “L.” The kind of love you get from a great big family that is there for you when things are at their worst – and their best. Everyone at the hospital and my own amazing support network helped me give my son a second chance at life. I’m grateful for every day we get. 

Sarah Tessier, Jack’s mom

Although the transplant was a success, Jack, like all transplant patients, will have to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life. But Sarah and her family are still hopeful for the future. For them, it boils down to a state of mind, an orientation of the heart. They are convinced that everything will turn out for the best. 

Today, their hope lies in research, which is the only way of developing new approaches to save and improve the lives of more children like Jack who are born with serious health problems. Jack’s path has already been determined. But other non-transplant options could be available to young liver patients in the future.

In July 2017, some of Sarah’s friends decided to get together and organize a fundraiser to support the research efforts led by Dr. Paganelli and his team, whose work is on the verge of revolutionizing current medical practices. 

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There are two options in terms of cell therapy: 1) transplanting the patient’s own liver cells back into their body after their genetic mutation has been corrected, or 2) using a patient’s stem cells to regenerate a new liver that would then be implanted using minimally invasive surgery, thereby eliminating the need for anti-rejection drugs.

Massimiliano Paganelli, MD

Researcher and Pediatric Gastroenterologist CHU Sainte-Justine

This time last year, Sarah was giving one last kiss to her son, her daughter, her husband and the rest of her family before being wheeled into the operating room at the CHUM for the procedure that would alter the course of their lives. By supporting Sainte-Justine, you have given Jack access to the best possible care and made sure his family could be by his bedside while his mother was recovering. At Sainte-Justine, we know it takes a village to shape a child’s future. And you are part of that village. 

Donating part of her liver to save Jack’s life was a remarkable demonstration of Sarah’s love for her son. But it is her fondest wish that other families dealing with liver disease never have to go through the same experience. She urges you to draw inspiration from that thought as you support the children and families of Sainte-Justine. 

Thank you for giving from your heart this Valentine’s Day. 

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