Two weeks after getting a liver transplant that little girl, Kristin Alcaraz, was joyfully jumping on the bed.
And less than an hour after he repeatedly said no, Kristin’s father gave in and bought her a puppy.
Kristin is now an active and happy 10-year-old. Looking at her, people are regularly shocked to learn from her parents that she was once deathly ill and had a liver transplant at age 2.
The Mesquite girl was just a few months old when her mother noticed that her belly was swollen and her eyes and skin were yellow. Exams at Children’s Medical Center Dallas showed that she was born without a bile duct in her liver. Bile was getting stuck, causing severe cirrhosis and jaundice.
The doctors told her mother the 3-month-old would need surgery to attach the liver to the intestine as a temporary fix. She would need a liver transplant – but even with that, she only had a 30 percent chance of living.
“It didn’t hit me until later,” Ms. Maciel said. “I remember being at home a night or two later, and I just started crying. They tell you what’s going on, but it’s like watching a movie.”
Doctors made the temporary fix in surgery, and the family tried to live normally as they waited for a liver to become available for transplant. Kristin’s bloated stomach threw off her balance and made it difficult for her to learn how to walk. She had a feeding tube inserted in her nose down to her stomach. Her swollen liver put so much pressure on her veins that blood burst out her throat, and she needed several transfusions to replace lost blood.
“Those bubbles were bursting inside of her esophagus,” Kristin’s father, Ambie Alcaraz, said. “She would wake up in the middle of the night because she was throwing up blood.”
A Children’s doctor put a camera down her throat to see how bad the damage was, and he was deeply troubled at what he saw.
“The doctor started crying and saying he didn’t think the chances of her living were very good,” Ms. Maciel said.
Doctors inserted a port in Kristin’s chest, much like cancer patients have. This would be her new source of nourishment, and the family carried around a bag of liquid food that fed into the port. It didn’t slow down Kristin a bit. She continued playing and dancing, and her parents often had to untangle her from the tube coiled around her legs.
Unexpectedly, when Kristin was 2-years-old, the call came that a liver was available for transplant. The nurse said it was a “perfect” fit, but Ms. Maciel was skeptical. Then the surgeon, Dr. Dev Desai, talked her into it.
“He was the most optimistic guy,” she said. “He took the time to calm me down and explain why we had to do this. He convinced me. He said, ‘This is it.’ ”
The surgery was successful but seeing their daughter hooked up to so many machines after the operation was a disturbing sight.
“It was just heartbreaking,” Ms. Maciel said. “She has stuff all over her; tubes hanging out of her, IVs in her neck. It was just not a sight you want for your kid.”
There was one sign of hope, however, her skin had already returned to a normal color. Two weeks later she was jumping on the bed like any rambunctious 2-year-old. Now 10 years old and in fifth grade, Kristin is down to only two medications a day and is able to go about her life without any restrictions. She does well in school, plays as a forward on her soccer team and loves playing with her two sisters and their black-and-white miniature schnauzer, Charlie.
As a sign of how she’s fully returned to enjoying her childhood, she cheerfully tells the story of the day they first saw Charlie as a puppy and decided they must take him home.
“We begged our dad. He kept saying, ‘No, no.’ ” Kristin said with a huge smile. “The next thing you know, we were walking out there with a little dog!”
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