CMNH Champion Keegan’s road to recovery


keegan cmnh

When Keegan was born, he showed symptoms of what doctors thought was a common case of jaundice. At first his parents weren’t alarmed, but when his yellow-tinted skin didn’t clear up on its own, they began to worry. After seven weeks of managing an increasingly fitful baby, Keegan’s mother insisted on a blood draw.

She was right: The blood labs revealed that her baby’s bilirubin scores were severely elevated, a sign that the liver may not be functioning properly. At that point, the family’s pediatrician referred them to Children’s Hospital Colorado’s liver clinic for further testing.

Road to recovery

Keegan and his family made the two-and-a-half hour commute from their home in Laramie, Wyoming, hopeful they would find answers to their child’s medical mystery.

Following a liver biopsy at Children’s Hospital Colorado, Keegan was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a disease of the bile ducts that causes inflammation and blockage of the normal waste pathway to the liver. Over time, the build-up of waste damages the liver beyond repair. Because Keegan’s condition was diagnosed late and his liver was already severely damaged, he would, in time, need a liver transplant.

Time to wait

While Keegan waited for his donor match, his poorly functioning liver ravaged his body. He was hospitalized with infections multiple times. Even more concerning, Keegan suffered from recurring bone fractures because lack of proper nutrient absorption meant his bones had become brittle.

Despite taking high-level vitamin supplements, Keegan’s bone density scans showed severe and worsening osteopenia (i.e. weakened bones), a condition usually associated with advanced age. On the plus side, his bone density score was so low that it qualified him to move up on the transplant list.

A colorful life

In April 2013, after seven months on the transplant list, Keegan’s family finally received the call they had been waiting for – Keegan had a donor match. At the age of three and a half, Keegan underwent an 11-hour transplant surgery to replace his damaged liver with a healthy one.

“When I saw Keegan after surgery he had so many tubes and wires connected to him,” his mother Stacey recalled. “But what was really striking was that for the first time in his life, his skin was pink! The new liver was working.”

Following the surgery, Keegan spent only eight days in the hospital and made a full post-transplant recovery.

Now 5 years old, Keegan is a rambunctious and precocious little boy. He has followed in the footsteps of his older brother and sister and loves to swim. Currently excelling as a level-4 swimmer, he can do the front stroke, back stroke, and can proudly dive into the deep end and emerge, just as he did following his health ordeal, full of life, love, and bright hopes for a healthy future.

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