Golisano Children’s Hospital completes first liver transplant, recipient shares her story

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — While most 17 year-olds are consumed by AP classes, SATS and prom – Maggie Giordano was fighting for a liver. But with the help of the Golisano Children’s Hospital’s transplant team, she got it in July of 2020. This is the first liver transplant to be performed in that hospital.

A few months ago this summer it was a normal night in the Giordano household, making frozen pizza – when the phone rang. Doctors informed the family a liver is ready, and to be at the hospital for surgery that same night. “Mom gets a call at like 9 o’clock, it was like, ‘can you be ready at 9:30?'” said Giordano.

Her journey leading up to that moment starts at birth. Giordano was born with a genetic disorder, Crigler-Najjar Syndrome. An enzyme in her liver that processes bilirubin, an orange-yellow bile pigment that is a byproduct of the natural breakdown of old red blood cells, isn’t produced in the appropriate amount to process the pigment. As a result, that pigment builds up in the body, resulting in jaundice, fatigue and even hearing loss.

“It was something that was relatively okay when I was little, but it progressed as I got older,” said Giordano.

Giordano would cope by using fluorescent blue light treatment while she slept. It wasn’t until she turned 17, that she and her family started to notice that simple daily activities like studying, or playing sports – were becoming harder to do. She was just too tired, and even sleeping 10-15 hours a day. The condition was becoming life-threatening.

“There comes a point where the quality of life is so poor,” said her mom Laurie Vahey. That’s when her family decided – it was time to fight for a new liver.

But it wasn’t simple – it would require making a case, and advocating. Giordano and her family were originally working with a specialist in Pittsburgh, but had trouble getting high enough on a list to get a transplant. Her and her mom ended up finding Dr. Nanda Kerkar at Golisano – who immediately took interest in Giordano’s case and researched it.

“Because she had Dr. Feitell behind her, advocating for her, then she was able to get it – I mean she is doing awesome,” said Vahey. A liver opened up for Giordano when Monroe County was able to resume elective surgeries before other large cities.

“Everything we needed was in place, we just needed to do it in pediatrics,” said Feitell. She said with this genetic condition, most transplants happen shortly after birth.

Six days after surgery, Giordano left the hospital with a new liver and new energy. She said her friends, her mom and her dog gave her hope to get through.

“I knew that everything would be taken care of, I had family and friends checking in, knew that one day I’ll be able to pet my dog again,” she said.

A month after surgery, Giordano walked the stage to get her high school diploma, which she said would be unthinkable without the transplant. She plans on taking a gap year and applying for colleges in the near future

Golisano Children’s Hospital said while they do not have the capability to perform liver transplants on young kids yet – they do have a long-term plan to begin treating younger children in the future. Giordano had just turned 18 in time to qualify for her surgery.

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