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Transplant saves Columbus child's life after rare liver disease

April is National Donate to Life Month, to encourage people to consider being an organ donor.

COLUMBUS, Ind. — April is National Donate to Life Month, to encourage people to consider being an organ donor.

It’s a decision that can literally save lives, something the Robertson family in Columbus is personally familiar with.

Three-year-old Audrey is every bit her age, a playful and sassy toddler, a long way from when she was born and her mother quickly realized something wasn’t right.

“She was just real lethargic," said Evalyn Robertson. "She was extremely jaundiced still at that point. I just had a bad feeling like something wasn’t right with her.

A trip to the emergency room gave a potentially deadly diagnosis.

“I was completely blindsided by it. She was so little. I never realized you could be in full-blown liver failure at three months old,” said Evalyn.

The disease is called biliary atresia. It is rare - about 400 to 600 US cases each year -  and causes rapid liver damage. Their only option was to wait for a donor.

“This is a terminal disease. If they don’t have a transplant, they will not survive,” said Dr. Richard Mangus a transplant surgeon at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.

Credit: Evalyn Robertson
Audrey Robertson

Riley has the only pediatric liver transplant program in Indiana.

“They had told us the call typically came in the early morning hours, so I would wake up in the middle of the night trying to find my phone. What if I miss that call? If I was to miss that call, it was going to be my fault she doesn’t get that liver,” said Evelyn.

Fortunately, the call came in less than two weeks with news of a donor, followed by surgery that same night.

Fast forward three years. Audrey has some scars, but is here and healthy. Her mother is now an advocate for people to sign up as an organ donor.

“Sharing Audrey’s story is really a testimony to what organ donation really does. She wouldn’t have seen her first birthday if it wasn’t for getting a liver transplant,” said Evalyn.

“None of us knows if anything is going to happen to us at some point, whether it’s an accident or some other event, and it gives you a chance to save multiple lives. All you have to do is sign up,” said Mangus.

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