Instead of baby clothes, Patti Marton gave her little nephew the gift of life.
Marton, 36, of Ocala, became a living organ donor when part of her liver was harvested and given to her nephew Clayton Niemesch on January 26 in a six-hour operation at the Children’s Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Marton met and held her 8-month-old nephew for the first time the day before surgery.
Clayton was born June 5 to Stacie and Matt Niemesch of Strongsville, Ohio. Stacie Niemesch is the sister of Patti Martons husband Tim.
Clayton was admitted to Rainbow and Babies’ Hospital at University Hospital in Cleveland days after he was born. He was soon taken to the neonatal intensive care unit.
Stacie Niemesch, a medical accounting professional, said her son’s ammonia levels were more than 40 times higher than normal due to liver disease.
“The nurse said he was gray and ashen. We didn’t think he would survive,” she said.
If there was a living donor, Clayton would no longer have to wait on a donor list. He would stabilize and get on the road to recovery sooner.
Stacie Niemesch was grateful when Aunt Patti showed up.
“No words can say enough. What do you say to someone who saved your child’s life? Thank you is never enough,” she said.
Stacie Niemesch credits God, family and friends for bringing the family through the ordeal.
Clayton had a life-threatening condition known as CPS-1 deficiency.
“CPS-1 deficiency is a very rare urea cycle disorder that affects the body’s ability to metabolize ammonia, a normal breakdown product of protein. (Clayton’s) best chance of survival was to receive a liver transplant,” said information supplied by UPMC’s Public Relations Manager, Andrea Kunicky.
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Marton said most of the surgery she has ever had was to remove wisdom teeth. But she didn’t hesitate to give the gift to save Clayton’s life.
“Clayton deserves the best chance in life. Why shouldn’t I donate?” asked Marton, a former tutor and now a home mother. The Martons have a son aged 6 and a daughter aged 3.
Clayton was not eating properly and running out of energy, and within a few days it was evident that he was not thriving.
A series of tests began and the focus was on urea problems. It was found that Clayton’s best chance of survival, according to UPMC information, was a liver transplant.
Stacie Niemesch said she and her husband were devastated when they heard the diagnosis.
“It was the worst day of my life,” she said.
Clayton was put on a waiting list for donors in October, but it would be some time before he was high on the list.
“I made a plea on Facebook: ‘Can you help me save my son?’ Said Stacie Niemesch.
“My best friend signed up too,” she said.
It has been found that both are Niemesches carriers of CPS-1, a very rare urea cycle disorder. For this reason they could not donate.
Marton was tested and turned out to be the perfect match. She was ready for the operation. Her husband was concerned but supportive.
According to Dr. George Mazariegos, chief of pediatric transplant at UPMC Children’s Hospital, the living donor transplant took about eight hours for recipient Clayton. A dozen surgeons, anesthetists and operating room staff were involved.
Mazariegos stated that Marton’s liver should be regenerated in about three months and it should have “minimal impact” on her “wonderful gift”.
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Clayton must be on an anti-rejection drug throughout his life, but he is able to eat normally and is not constrained by ammonia breakdown concerns.
Mazariegos says about 75 percent of living donors are family members and about 20 percent are friends of the patient.
Mazariegos performed his first liver transplant at UPMC in 1997. UPMC surgeons performed approximately 100 live donor transplants in 2020, of which approximately 12 were pediatric recipients.
According to Mazariegos, liver transplants with living donors can help ease the waiting times on organ transplant lists.
According to Kunicky, the public relations manager, donors are “fully informed about the potential risks of surgery so they can make an informed decision”.
Kunicky said UPMC worked with Dr. Thomas Starzl, who launched the country’s first program 39 years ago, pioneered liver transplantation.
UPMC “is radically changing the traditional approach to liver transplantation with our living donor liver transplant program that can save so many lives,” wrote Kunicky in an email.
Marton said she felt uncomfortable and easily tired immediately after the surgery, but regained her strength daily.
Stacie Niemesch said her family’s insurance covered the medical expenses.
Meanwhile, Matt has taken a sabbatical from work in the software business and will be in Pittsburgh until Clayton’s expected release in April. Stacie commutes from the couple’s home to the hospital.
“He’s fine. There were no red flags. We’re excited to see how he’s doing at home,” said Stacie Niemesch.