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Rare Four-Organ Transplant Enables Girl to Live - and Eat - Normally
UT and Hermann collaborate on team effort to give 'the hope of life'
For Maria Mendez, 14, life is a now little sweeter – and it’s not just because she is able to eat ice cream for the first time. She has a new perspective on life after becoming the first four-organ transplant recipient in the Texas Medical Center and only the fourth in the nation.
When Maria was 6 months old, she was diagnosed with short-gut syndrome, which can result from premature birth, neonatal illness, congenital disorders and neuromuscular diseases of the intestinal tract. Surgeons had to remove most of her intestine, leaving only 4 inches of small bowel and a small portion of colon.
Patients with severe gut complications, like Maria, cannot eat and require total parenteral nutrition (TPN), which provides nourishment through a venous catheter. Most patients do well with TPN, but some eventually develop complications, including liver failure. When a patient can no longer tolerate TPN, with no other way to absorb nutrients, a transplant may be the patient’s only option for survival.
At the age of 13, Maria was referred to Ruben Quiros, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston and director of pediatric hepatology at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.
Factors to Consider
Maria needed a liver and small bowel transplant. During the evaluation period before transplantation, Quiros discovered that both Maria’s kidneys also would need to be replaced. Another factor to consider was that even though Maria is 14, she is the size of a 9-year-old.
The surgical transplant team included:
- Luis Mieles, M.D., surgeon and medical director of liver transplantation at the Memorial Hermann’s Texas Liver Center and the Intestinal Rehabilitation and Transplantation Center, as well as a clinical professor at UT Medical School;
- Bob Saggi, M.D., transplant surgeon at Memorial Hermann’s Texas Liver Center, assistant medical director of the Intestinal Rehabilitation and Transplantation Center and a clinical assistant professor at UT Medical School; and
- Hadar Merhav, M.D., assistant medical director of Memorial Hermann’s Texas Liver Center, transplant surgeon at the Intestinal Rehabilitation and Transplant Center and clinical associate professor at UT Medical School.
“Dr. Mieles recognized the need to start up a small bowel program in the area, creating this opportunity for patients like Maria,” Quiros said.
Credit to Her Mother
All four physicians credit Maria’s survival to her mother, Maria Gonzalez, who also is raising six other children.
“When I look at my daughter, I see the hope of life,” Gonzalez said in Spanish. Six months after her Nov. 17 surgery, Maria had ice cream for the first time. Since her release from the hospital, she also has sampled pepperoni pizza and tacos.
Quiros, along with the surgical team, will continue to provide Maria’s ongoing medical care. Already, she has gained about 10 pounds and grown 2 inches in height since the surgery.
“I think those are the biggest rewards we have as a team,” Quiros said. “Looking at this little girl smiling at us and finally being able to eat and have as normal a life as possible is what we strive for.”
The medical team emphasizes the importance of the donor’s family, mentioning that without all of the donors and programs such as LifeGift, these life-saving options would not exist.
“Words cannot describe how thankful we are to the doctors who saved our daughter’s life,” Gonzalez said. “We can’t thank the donor’s family enough. God will reward them.”
By Meredith Raine, Institutional Advancement
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