Paediatric Liver Transplant Changes a Life | Western Cape Government


Paediatric Liver Transplant Changes a Life

28 February 2012

Francois Van Niekerk from Vanderbijlpark in Gauteng has become one of the more than 100 children to undergo a liver transplant at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital since 1991.

Doctors say Francois will be discharged soon and is a changed person from the sick, exhausted little boy who arrived at the hospital last year. Francois, six, has been on the organ recipient list since he was two years old. His mother, Yolandi Van Niekerk, said that shortly after he was born his skin turned yellow. He was diagnosed with a rare metabolic disease where, because of an inherited enzyme deficiency, his liver became severely affected, leading to liver cirrhosis.

Doctors were able to manage his condition until 2008 when his liver deteriorated to the point that he needed a liver transplant, and Donald Gordon Hospital in Johannesburg put him on the organ recipient waiting list but, as they no longer perform liver transplants in children, preparations were put in place for him to be seen at the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital.

Dr Anita Parbhoo, Manager of Medical Services, said: "Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital is the national referral centre for paediatric liver transplants. There is a very strong multidisciplinary transplant team looking after these patients and preparing them for the possibility of a transplant."

On 14 December 2011, a few weeks before his sixth birthday, Francois finally received the call to say that a donor liver was available. Mrs Van Niekerk said Francois was on his way home from having a hernia repaired at Morningside Medi-Clinic when the family was told that he needed to fly to Cape Town on the first available flight.

Professor Alastair Millar, the head of surgery at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital, said that Francois' recovery after the transplant has been remarkable considering his poor state of health before the surgery.

Western Cape Health Minister Theuns Botha said, "We are very grateful that Francois' life has been changed. Francois' story highlights the utter dependence of liver transplant patients for donors. The Western Cape Government Health can be proud to have surgeons and healthcare staff of world calibre to conduct these highly specialised operations, but we cannot do it alone. Our surgeons need willing donors - we are better together."

Mrs Van Niekerk adds that before Francois was put on the organ recipient list, transplants and organ donation was not something the family thought about often.

"Our hearts go out to the family that lost a loved one but at the same time it gives Francois a better quality of life. He already has more self-confidence and moves with greater ease," Mrs Van Niekerk said. "We believe that God is our healer. He gives doctors wisdom to do these life-changing operations and managing these processes post-transplant."

Professor Millar said: "It is a sad fact that far fewer deceased donor organs are being offered than a decade ago. There is an extreme shortage of organ donors for all organ transplants but particularly livers and kidneys. All of us should discuss organ donation so that close family members would be aware of the need and would be at peace with a decision to give permission if so required. We currently have seven children urgently needing liver transplants, some of whom have been on the waiting list for years."

Dr Parbhoo added: "Paediatric patients awaiting a transplant have to overcome many challenges. This includes many long stays in hospital away from their families. Francois and his family waited patiently for the phone call to arrive to tell them that a suitable donor was found. The Clinical Team and the families of these patients awaiting transplants are extremely grateful to people in the community who show their generosity by considering the donation of their organs after death."

Mrs Van Niekerk said: "We thank all of the staff of Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital for their love and compassion through a challenging period in our lives."

Media Enquiries: 

Lauren O'Connor May
Principal Communications Officer: Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital
Tel: 021 658 5448
Cell: 084 586 1413