A Forever Bond: Adleigh’s Experience of a Living-donor Liver Transplant

Standing in the Healing Garden on the sixth floor of UPMC Children’s, 6-year-old Adleigh holds her arms out to balance on the side of a stone ledge. “My birthday is April 5,” she shares confidently, a smile escaping her cherubic face.

Adleigh’s mom, Haley — who looks like a dark-haired, adult version of the fair-haired child playing beside her — glances disapprovingly at her firstborn. “Adleigh,” Haley says, drawing out the last syllable of her daughter’s name, “you know well and good that is not your birthdate.”

Haley sighs, sitting back on the metal bench at the garden’s edge. “It’s March 27,” mom corrects with a smile and a little eye roll. “She likes to tease.”

At that, Adleigh breaks into a mischievous grin. She hops off the garden’s ledge and sits down next to her mother. Laying her head on mom’s lap, her face turned up to receive the warm sun, Adleigh appears the picture of good health.

As Haley strokes Adleigh’s hair, they share a conspiratorial giggle. With the spring sun shining down on the happy pair, you’d never know that only three weeks earlier both mother and child were in a hospital bed.

An Early Diagnosis

In addition to her mom, Adleigh lives with her dad, Kendall, and little brother, Eli, in the small town of Jemison, Alabama.

Shortly after she was born, Adleigh was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a serious liver disorder that can be life-threatening.

Despite a corrective procedure at her local hospital in Alabama during infancy, Adleigh continued to experience health issues as a result of the disease. “When she was fine, she was just like any other kid,” her dad explains, “but when she’d get sick, she’d get really, really sick.”

What Any Mom Would Do

Through research, Haley and Kendall discovered that a living-donor liver transplant could offer their daughter hope for a long and healthy life.

In a pediatric living-donor liver transplant, surgeons remove a large portion of a healthy adult’s liver and transplant it into a child to replace the unhealthy organ. In the adult donor, the liver regenerates within a few months.

After learning more about living donor transplantation, Haley and Kendall asked around at their local hospital in Alabama for transplant program recommendations. “Everyone said, ‘Go to Pittsburgh,’” the parents recall.

In November 2023, Adleigh was listed for a transplant. In January 2024, blood tests revealed that Haley was a match. A month later, in late February, surgeons at UPMC Children’s transplanted nearly 40% of Haley’s healthy liver into little Adleigh. The transplant marked the hospital’s 200th living-donor liver transplant to date.

When asked what made her decide to donate part of her liver to her child, Haley quickly brushes off the question with a shrug. “I just did what any mom would do,” she says simply.

No Tears

The morning of the transplant started off a little tense for the family. “I was terrified about leaving Adleigh’s bedside,” Haley recalls. “I prayed I wouldn’t break down and start crying.”

“It was fine,” Kendall interjects. “No tears at all. They were wheeling Adleigh back for surgery and she was happy and smiling.”

“It’s true. Dr. Soltys, Dr. Mazariegos, and everybody else made sure we all felt comfortable,” Haley adds. “We’ve had a good experience at UPMC Children’s. We’d recommend this hospital to anyone.”

A Bond of Body and Soul

Adleigh was discharged from UPMC Children’s 15 days following her transplant. For now, she continues to receive follow-up care in Pittsburgh, but the family expects to return home to Alabama sometime in the next few weeks.

For Haley, the mother who thought nothing of giving a part of herself to her eldest child, her hope is that the transplant will offer Adleigh a new lease on life. “I pray that because I am her mother, Adleigh’s body will accept my liver as her own.”

As Haley continues to cradle Adleigh’s head in her lap, smiling down at her only daughter, it’s clear that mother and child share a bond that is, at once, of both body and soul.

A bond that will last forever.