UHEALTH TRANSPLANT SURGEONS AT JACKSON PERFORM LIFESAVING LIVER TRANSPLANT ON 11-YEAR-OLD
Surgery Performed Just Weeks Before Patient's Father To Be Deployed Overseas
University of Miami Health System surgeons have performed a lifesaving liver transplant on a little girl about to say goodbye to her father. Eleven-year-old Victoria Rojas, whose father will be deployed overseas shortly, received word that she had a match just seven days after her father returned home from a previous deployment, and is now on the road to recovery.
Victoria began showing signs of jaundice – an unnaturally yellow discoloration of her skin and eyes – in April 2016.
Victoria, a fifth grader in Clearwater, Fla., underwent a series of diagnostic tests, which determined that she had autoimmune hepatitis type 1 liver disease. The chronic disease causes the body’s immune system to attack the liver and cause it to become inflamed, often leading to liver failure.
“The doctor told us that her liver was so bad it was equivalent to that of a person who had been drinking their whole life,” said her mother, Mary Ann Rojas. “She was rarely sick. I couldn’t believe my baby was going through this.”
Victoria spent the next several weeks in the hospital, as her mother desperately searched for solutions and the best care for her daughter. To make matter worse, Mary Ann and Victoria were longing for the support and comfort husband and father, Jenaro Rojas, who, at the time, was deployed as a military contractor.
“I’ve traveled to five continents for years on dangerous missions,” said Jenaro. “But seeing my baby hurt and me feeling helpless has been the most pain I’ve ever endured.”
Victoria’s doctors in Clearwater referred her to the Miami Transplant Institute (MTI) at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center in Miami.
Despite the uncertainty of Victoria’s condition, they were confident they had found the right place, especially after meeting with UHealth – University of Miami Health System pediatric hepatologist Jennifer Garcia, MD.
“Upon first meeting Victoria, it was clear her autoimmune disease had progressed to end-stage liver disease,” said Dr. Garcia. “She had developed ascites, fluid in her abdomen, and esophageal varices at risk for bleeding, enlarged veins in the feeding tube that connects the throat to the stomach. There was no doubt that she would need a lifesaving liver transplant in order to achieve a good long-term outcome."
During this time, Victoria was on immunosuppression for her autoimmune disease. She suffered heavy side effects such as hallucinations and memory loss that caused her to be home-schooled.
“I would always talk to Victoria and tell her that everything will be okay, and that we will get through this easily,” said Jenaro. “Being home-schooled was hard for her because she was involved in school activities and she missed her friends.”
Over the next several months, Victoria’s medications decreased and her father was once again deployed. Doctors determined that Victoria’s best chance at survival was a liver transplant. By the end of 2016, she was placed on the national waiting transplant list.
“Victoria was sad and kept asking: ‘Why me? What did I do that this happened to me, and why didn’t this happen when I was a baby?’” her mother recalled.
Still, the family turned to their faith and grew more united, particularly when Jenaro returned home from his deployment on March 13. Just seven days later, the family received the call they’d been waiting for. A compatible donor liver was available for Victoria.
The family drove to Miami, where UHealth transplant surgeon Akin Tekin, MD, spearheaded the five-hour surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
“We had faith in God and the doctors,” said Mary Ann. “When we saw Dr. Tekin, it was a relief to know my daughter was fine, and we are so thankful for the empathy of Dr. Tekin during the most vulnerable moment of our lives.”
The road to recovery will be a slow one, but the family is grateful that Victoria will be able to return to school, play sports, and have a normal childhood again.
“Victoria is smiling more, walks more, is ecstatic, and is eating more,” says Mary Ann. “She is no longer on pain medication and she is stronger than ever.”
As Victoria recovers, her father feels grateful that he could be by her side during her recovery. In just a few weeks, he is scheduled to once again be deployed for another 10-month stint overseas. He can go now in peace, he says, knowing that his daughter’s health is improving.
“We’re all fighting for the same cause: for Victoria to live a healthier and normal life again,” said Jenaro.
April is National Donate Life Month and because of Victoria’s successful transplantation journey, the family now wants to advocate for this cause.
“We are thankful to the donor family that saved my daughter’s life,” said Jenaro. “I am forever in your debt.”
Victoria and her parents will share their story during a news conference Tuesday.
Victoria Rojas, patient
Mary Ann Rojas, patient’s mother
Jenaro Rojas, patient’s father
Akin Tekin, MD, UHealth Liver, Instestinal and Multivisceral Surgeon
Jennifer Garcia, MD, UHealth pediatric hepatologist
Rodrigo Vianna, MD, Director, Miami Transplant Institute
Chief, Liver, Intestinal and Multivisceral Transplant
UHealth physicians will discuss Victoria’s transplant surgery and progress. Victoria and parents will speak about their transplant experience.
11, 2017, 10:00 a.m.
Jackson Memorial Hospital
Ira Clark Diagnostic Treatment Center, Room 259
In the corner of N.W. 12th Avenue and 19th Street
Miami, FL 33136
Media can park in front of the Clark DTC.
Family, along with Dr. Jennifer Garcia, is available for Spanish interviews.
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Jackson Health System
1611 N.W. 12th Avenue Miami, FL 33136