Doctors Conduct Rare Four-Organ Transplant

A 14-year-old Houston girl is the first in the city to receive a quadruple organ transplant. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, surgeons at Children's Memorial Hospital gave the girl a new liver, small intestine and two kidneys.

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Maria Mendez developed a disease known as short-bowel syndrome when she was six months old. Doctors had to remove most of her intestine, leaving only four inches of bowel and a small part of her colon. She couldn't eat and had to be fed through a tube connected to a vein in her neck. Thirteen years later, she developed complications including liver disease and kidney failure. Dr. Bob Saggi is one of the surgeons who performed the quadruple transplant back in November.

"The donor's small bowel and liver are taken as one unit and in Maria's case the donor also provided two kidneys. And these two kidneys, along with the intestine and the liver were sewn in as one big organ cluster. And essentially we replaced the abdominal organs."

This is only the fourth time a transplant of this kind has been done in the entire country. In fact, the surgical team says you could probably count on your fingers the number of people in the world who have undergone similar procedures. Her mother, Maria Mendez-Gonzalez, says just before the transplant, Maria was given only about three months to live.

Translation: "Everybody gave her no hope at all, but she was very confident in God that somehow she would find the people that would help her daughter. And eventually it happened, she didn't realize it was going to be so fast, it was relatively fast."

Because of her disease, Maria's growth was stunted. She's 14, but physically she's about the size of a nine-year-old. She was never able to eat but now she's enjoying things like pepperoni pizza, macaroni and cheese and tortillas. Lead Transplant Surgeon Dr. Luis Mieles.

"She didn't eat for almost 13 years, so her stomach's not used to it. In fact, some of these children may develop aversion to food and you have to nourish them through the gut with a tube in the gut for many, many years until they start to learn how to eat and enjoy food, which is part of our joy of life. And that's what she's starting. She actually started quite early -- she really enjoyed -- we gave her some ice cream at once and she truly enjoyed it."

When asked what this operation means to Maria, her mother answered...

Translation: "The hope of life."

Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...