More than five years since their transplant, 'liver sisters' are thriving

In 2017, Kendall, then 17, and Avabelle, then eight months, were both struggling with serious liver conditions at Lurie Children’s.

Kendall had an autoimmune hepatitis, a chronic liver disease, complicated by primary sclerosing cholangitis, a rare but serious condition that causes severe liver damage. Baby Ava was born with biliary atresia, a congenital life-threatening condition in which bile is unable to leave the liver, damaging it and harming vital body functions. Both girls needed a liver transplant for the best shot at a cure.

Neither Ava’s mom, Michelle, nor Kendall say they will forget the day they heard a liver became available for both patients – from the same donor. Lurie Children’s is one of the only pediatric hospitals in the world that can perform what’s called split liver transplants, in which one liver from the same donor is separated and used in two different patients.

Because of their different ages and sizes, Lurie Children’s pediatric transplantation experts, including world-renowned pediatric surgeon Dr. Riccardo Superina, determined the available liver could be split and used for both Ava and Kendall.

At the time, the pair were nicknamed “liver sisters,” and received media attention for their amazing health journeys. (Watch the story here.)

Today, almost about five and a half years since their transplants, both Ava, now 6, and Kendall, 22, are doing well and still keep in touch.

At the one-year anniversary of their transplants, the families hosted a “liver-versary” party together, a celebration Kendall said she will never forget.

“All of their family and friends were there; their family made these cute little liver cartoon cookies. They threw the party for Avabelle, but then it became OUR party. That was so sweet!” said Kendall, who works full-time at a pediatrician’s office and loves doing yoga, painting and taking long walks outdoors.

Ava’s mom, Michelle, said Ava is a “wild child” who loves to eat, play outside and in the water, ride her bike and do gymnastics. “Most of the time you’ll see her doing cartwheels instead of walking!” she said.

It’s difficult to look back and remember how sick Ava was, but Michelle said the biliary atresia community had her back and helped her be an advocate for her sick baby girl. It also helped to find a trustworthy medical team at Lurie Children’s.

“Ava has gone through more than what a normal adult would go through in their lifetime,” Michelle said, adding that “organ donation made this possible and we can never express enough of our gratitude.”

Meanwhile, the “liver sisters’” families say they plan to always keep in touch. “Ava and I are connected on another level, one that not many people can compare to, and that to me is so special,” Kendall said.

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