Dec. 26, 2013— -- Of all the reasons to lose weight, saving the life of your child is possibly the best motivation ever. It was the reason Bridgeport, Ill., resident Eduardo Camargo said he dropped more than 40 pounds in less than two months.
Camargo's baby girl, Jazlyn, was diagnosed with biliary atresia right after she was born in April of 2012, a condition that occurs when the liver's bile duct is blocked or absent. Without surgery, it can lead to liver failure and death.
Jazlyn had two surgeries to prevent liver failure, but her condition continued to worsen. When she was just 5 months old, doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago told the family a liver transplant would be necessary to save their baby's life.
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"Right away I said it had to be me and not my wife," Camargo said. "I have two other daughters and they need a mother more than they need a father."
But the doctors told Camargo he couldn't become a donor unless he lost weight. At 210 pounds, the 35-year-old was diagnosed with fatty liver disease. A common condition in people who are overweight or obese, the disease is characterized by an unhealthy buildup of fat tissue in the liver.
"We use no more than 10 percent fat tissue in the liver as our cutoff for donors and unfortunately the father was certainly higher than that," explained Dr. Talia Baker, a liver transplant specialist and the director of the Adult Living Donor Liver Transplant Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
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Baker also said that in general, people who are overweight aren't good candidates for organ donation because they have a higher than average chance of complications for any type of surgery. Considering organ donation is a voluntary operation that doesn't directly benefit the patient, Baker said the Northwestern team doesn't consider the extra risk acceptable.
Camargo said he has always struggled with weight loss in the past but he was determined to save his daughter. So, even though he hadn't worked out since high school, he joined a gym in the neighborhood and began running on the treadmill every other day before work. He started eating more vegetables, watching his portions, and drank nothing but water.
Camargo said it was tough going, especially the running.
"There were days when I thought my knees would give out and all I wanted to do was stop, but I would think of my daughter and I would keep going," he said. "After a while I worked my way up to 6 miles in an hour."
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In November of last year, Camargo learned that his efforts paid off. In a little less than two months, he had slimmed down to 180 pounds and lowered the percentage of fat in his liver to below 2 percent.
The transplant was a go. And not a moment too soon.
The day before Jazlyn's scheduled surgery, her liver began to fail. Baker said it was clear that child would die without immediate treatment.
The next day, Camargo underwent surgery to remove about a third of his liver, Baker said. The tissue was then put on ice and walked across the street to the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago where a team of doctors was waiting to transplant it into Jazlyn.
Both surgeries were a resounding success, Baker said. Not only was Jazlyn saved, she expects her father will suffer no ill effects.
"The liver is the one organ that begins regenerating immediately after donor surgery," she said. "After about 3 months the majority of the donor's liver tissue is restored."
As for Jazlyn, Baker said the infant should be just fine, though she will have to remain on immunosuppressant medications for the rest of her life.
Now, more than a year later, Camargo said he is beyond grateful that he gets to celebrate the holidays with a happy, healthy 20-month-old, along her mom Gabby and her two sisters, Jaylene, age 6 and Jackie, age 14. He's been able to maintain some of his weight loss, and all the adults in the family have signed the organ donor cards on the back of their drivers licenses.
"It's a scary experience going through it but the outcome pays off," Camargo said. "When you see your child running up and down, you know something good came out of it."