Thriving After Liver Transplantation

Pryluck family at the beach

Aiden (right) with his sister Mica and parents Johanna and Michael

Every year a few hundred newborns in the US are diagnosed with biliary atresia, a rare condition in which a portion of the bile duct is damaged or missing. Bile—a fluid that is essential for liver function and nutrient absorption—accumulates in the liver and cannot flow from there to the intestines.

Aiden Pryluck appeared to be healthy at his birth in May, 2014, but within a few days he developed jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, indicating that bile had built up in the liver. His family was referred to Dr. Mercedes Martinez, a pediatric liver specialist at Columbia. Through a series of tests including blood work, ultrasounds, CT scans, and a cholangiogram, a test that tracks the flow of bile through the gall bladder, the family learned that Aiden had biliary atresia.

The next eight months were incredibly difficult. He was very sick, Aiden’s mother Johanna recalls, but “through it all, Dr. Martinez was our rock. Regardless of the hour, concern, or question, she was a constant source of support, guidance, and strength.”

When Aiden was seven weeks old, he underwent surgery to replace the damaged bile duct with a healthy section of bowel (the Kasai procedure). Aiden’s problems were temporarily alleviated, but by nine months, his condition had worsened significantly, and Dr. Martinez recommended a liver transplant.

Aiden’s father Michael immediately volunteered to donate part of his liver to his son, a surgery called living donor liver transplant. The day of the operation, Michael recalls knowing that he would never do anything more important in his life than what he was about to do. Fortunately, the transplant was a complete success, and father and son came through without complications. 

“When we think back to when Aiden was a baby, our immediate concern was getting through the operation and saving his life. We soon learned that organ transplantation does not end with a successful surgery, though,” says Johanna. Like most other transplant patients, Aiden takes daily immunosuppressant drugs to prevent his body from rejecting the new liver. These drugs are life-saving, but not without their own complications. Despite all that he has been through Aiden is now a happy, healthy seven-year-old, who plays soccer, ice hockey, and the guitar.

“Although Aiden’s surgery will never truly be behind us, we’re at a point in our lives where we can tackle obstacles as they arise and optimistically look forward to the future,” Johanna says. “After our experience, we knew we needed to find a way to give back to Dr. Martinez and the liver transplant team that saved our family. We became involved with the Columbia Transplant Forum, and my husband and I are honored to continue to support the transplant research that will lead to a brighter future for patients like Aiden.”