Terminally-Ill Toddler is Facebook Hit

Facebook is usually used as a social networking tool by young people looking for parties.

But in the case of 1-year-old Bethany Dawson, connecting with people around the world has become a way for her parents to fuel a desperate search for an organ donor for their daughter.

Nikki Summer, 21, and Tim Dawson, 28, of Cannock, Staffordshire (northwest of Birmingham), have set up a Facebook page for Bethany, urging people to join the United Kingdom's organ donation program. They hope it leads to finding a bowel and liver donor for Bethany, without which, doctors say, the toddler will not see her second birthday.

Bethany's parents remain hopeful, however, and have been overwhelmed by the public's response to their appeals; nearly 30,000 people have logged on to their daughter's Facebook page during the past week.

"It has been really incredible," Summer told ABC News, "the amount of support and cooperation we have received from perfect strangers, especially from people in America -- we are just amazed."

Taking a Chance

Bethany was born with gastroschisis, a condition affecting about one child in 5,000, in which the bowels and intestines developed outside the body. By the time Bethany reached her first birthday, she had already undergone 15 surgeries.

"The doctors told us of her condition at about 12 weeks gestation," she said. But we were told that her condition could be rectified with one or two surgeries."

Children affected with gastroschisis have a more difficult time eating normally. However, in a significant number of cases, the bowels can be reinserted into the correct body cavity; nasal gastric tube feeding is introduced, lasting over a given period of time, and the child gradually assumes a normal diet and goes on into adulthood to lead a perfectly normal and healthy life.

However, in Bethany's case, there were complications, including a lack of blood supply to the intestines, and while doctors struggled to repair the damage, she eventually developed liver disease. She was put on a liver and intestine transplant list in March of this year. To make matters worse, Bethany is unable to receive only a liver or partial liver transplant -- a common practice for children -- since her condition requires a transplant of the intestines plus the liver.

According to Dr. Girish Gupte, the consultant in charge of Bethany's case from the transplant side at Birmingham's Children's Hospital, a liver and small intestines donor would need to weigh less than 30 kilos (66 pounds), about the weight of a 10-year-old child or younger.

Although a relatively rare condition affecting approximately two to six children out of a million, most children born with gastroschisis, said Gupte, enjoy a good quality of life. However, 40 percent of the cases that develop liver disease as a secondary result can be reversed.

"These children are born with healthy livers," Gupte told ABC News in a phone interview. "The problem is with their bowel. A normal person can absorb and digest, but a child born with gastroschisis has to be given a central line -- a catheter placed into a large vein in the neck or chest to administer medication or food in this case."

If progress is made with various feeding strategies, then recovery is entirely feasible. But if the patient develops an infection as a result of the central lines and they eventually develop liver disease, then complications arise.

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