A Syrian boy living in Dubai flew to the United States for an urgent organ transplant – then met the woman whose liver saved his life.
Ahmad Akkad, four, was desperately ill with a rare genetic disease when medics found the perfect match in 46-year-old American Becky Cable.
“I feel like Ahmad is a part of me. He’s family now,” said Becky after meeting the child and his mother, Aya, at Cleveland Clinic in the Midwest state of Ohio.
“He is just so beautiful and so healthy and so…alive!”
Ahmad was still a toddler when he first showed signs of being unwell. When he developed severe itching and jaundice, Aya took him to see a pediatrician, who referred him to specialists in Abu Dhabi.
There, specialists delivered a shattering diagnosis: a disorder called progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (PFIC). The little boy’s liver was deteriorating rapidly, causing toxins to build up in his bloodstream, and his parents were told their then two-year-old son would probably die without a liver transplant.
“It was so hard. Nothing was helping Ahmad at all,” Aya recalled.
“When we received the call that we had a donor, I was so happy. My son would have the chance to live in good health!”
Around the world, many organ transplant candidates remain on waiting lists for lengthy periods of time, facing the risk of death. Living donor liver transplantation, in which healthy people donate a portion of an organ that has the capacity to regrow, offers real hope when time is of the essence.
Cleveland Clinic offers one of the world’s most comprehensive transplant programs, with experience that includes living donor transplantation between child and adult patients. Performing approximately 150 liver transplants per year, the center has more than 30 years of experience in liver transplantation, with a dedicated multidisciplinary team that includes hepatologists with expertise in all areas of liver disease.
Becky originally volunteered for organ donation at the hospital when a close friend needed a liver transplant there. That operation never happened, as her friend became too ill for surgery, but she had agreed to stay registered as a donor.
“I thought: ‘What’s the difference if I know the person or I don’t know the person?” she said.
“I’m willing to give if there’s anybody who needs it.”
That person was Ahmad. They were a perfect match.
As she prepared to make the two-hour drive to Cleveland from her home in rural New York state, Aya and Ahmad boarded a 22-hour flight from Dubai. While their homes are about 7,000 miles apart, the two will be linked forever.
Dr. Koji Hashimoto, a specialist in multiorgan transplants at Cleveland Clinic, removed Ahmad’s diseased liver and replaced it with a palm-sized portion of Becky’s healthy organ. A fifth of her liver was removed for the transplant – typically, the body regenerates the missing section within six to eight weeks.
Their operations occurred simultaneously – and the transplant worked. Ahmad was almost immediately transformed into an active toddler who hasn’t stopped moving.
Aya said: “He doesn’t like to sleep at all. He just wants to play – and that’s a good thing,” she said.
“Every time I see him walking, running, playing, I think about his donor. And I want to thank her.”
She and Ahmad were able to do this in person when, on October 11, they met Becky for the very first time. Amid tears and laughter, Aya said: “When I saw Becky, I just wanted to go hug her. How can I thank her for this precious gift?
“Because of her generosity, she saved my son’s life.”
Source: Cleveland Clinic News Service