By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Oak Middle School seventh-grader Lydia Cavanaugh was born with Biliary Atresia (BA), a rare, life threatening liver disease. Over the past 12 years, she has suffered numerous liver infections and developed complications associated with liver disease which further deteriorated her liver and her health. A year ago, on Sept. 26, Lydia was placed on the liver transplant list at Children’s Hospital; 10 months later she underwent surgery to receive one. The donor was her mother, Dawn.
Initially, donating her liver to her daughter was not an option for Dawn, 49, as the cut off age for living donors at Lahey Hospital (Children’s Hospital affiliate) was 45. After much success with slightly older donors, the hospital recently increased the donor age to 55, opening the door for Dawn.
After the initial blood testing proved that mother and daughter were a match, a team of
nurse practitioners, living donor coordinators, surgeons, a dietician, pharmacist, finance specialist, psychiatrist, social worker, gastroenterologist, cardiologist and more walked Dawn through the donor process and prepared her physically and mentally for organ donation surgery.
“The team wanted to be sure that not only was I a match for Lydia, but that I was healthy enough to donate and withstand the surgery. They also wanted to be sure that I was mentally able to donate,” said Dawn. “They asked me if I was expecting anything in return for donating my liver and I responded, ‘Yes, I expect Lydia to live a long, healthy, happy life.’”
On July 15 both Dawn and Lydia underwent surgery – Dawn at Lahey Hospital and Lydia at Children’s Hospital – with Dawn donating just under 40 percent of her liver to save her daughter’s life.
“I was happy that I was going to get my liver and my second chance,” said Lydia. “I was happy that my mom was giving me that chance, but I was worried about her at the same time.”
Both Lydia and Dawn are doing well post-surgery. Lydia is back at school and even participating in gym class. As for Dawn, the experience has been life changing.
“I have a greater respect for life, all life. It is fragile,” shared Dawn. “I was so happy that I could give Lydia a second chance at life. I gave her life the first time and then gave her life again and I would do it again for any of my children. Many people call me a hero, but I’m not. I’m kind of selfish for wanting to keep them around for a long time.”
On Saturday, Sept. 26, Dawn will be manning the Donate Life table with other New England Organ Bank (NEOB) volunteers at the Spirit of Shrewsbury Fall Festival’s Expo at Oak Middle School, 45 Oak St., from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Later this month, she will be speaking to Grafton High School health classes about the importance of organ donation. She will also be visiting the Worcester Registry of Motor Vehicles on a monthly basis to encourage and thank staff for asking folks to consider checking the donor box. It is a life-changing, life-saving decision, said Dawn.
“Some people don’t make it to transplant and some don’t recover afterwards,” she said. “Organ donation is the gift of life. I love my kids with all my heart and the thought that I could have lost Lydia makes my love all that much stronger. ”
For more information on organ donation, visit donatelife.net.