When Austin Farrell was a toddler, his parents learned a congenital defect in his liver would require surgery. They had no idea, however, that his condition would lead them on a health journey from their Florida home to an operating room at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
When Lisa and Jimmy Farrell took their son to get a routine ultrasound, the physician found Austin had portal hypertension in the liver and that his portal vein—connecting the digestive system to the liver and spleen—was missing. After gaining strength over the next three years, Austin underwent a procedure to reconstruct that pathway and restore blood flow in the liver.
“We thought that was the answer, but things didn’t return to normal,” Lisa said.
Was it asthma, or something worse?
Instead, activities Austin typically enjoyed left him winded and tired. Lisa and Jimmy worried he was developing asthma or, worse, a heart condition.
An echocardiogram showed he had developed pulmonary hypertension, high blood pressure in the lungs’ arteries, making his heart work harder. Doctors in both Illinois and Florida suspected Austin’s health complications were related to congenital liver defects. Austin would likely need a transplant.
The physicians recommended Children’s. The Farrells found Stuart Knechtle, M.D., Chief of Transplant Services, who has experience treating patients with both liver and heart complications.
The family traveled from Orlando to Atlanta, where they met with members of both the liver and cardiology teams.
“It was an unbelievable experience that gave us so much reassurance,” Jimmy said.
Lisa cited the teams’ collaboration as a major advantage. “We’ve been through a lot of different healthcare teams, but we’re so impressed with Children’s,” she said. “We’ve yet to see two different specialties work so well together.”
Receiving His Liver Transplant
The Farrells got the call they had been waiting for Friday, July 12: Doctors had found a match. Early Saturday, Austin became the 400th liver transplant recipient at Children’s.
Now 7, Austin has returned to school and his favorite activities, but his family hasn’t forgotten the support they received in Atlanta.
The Farrells praised Dr. Knechtle and Rene Romero, M.D., Medical Director of the Pediatric Liver Transplant Program, for walking them through the process and keeping the lines of communication open.
“They see you as a family, not just a patient,” Lisa said. “It’s nice to have your doctors and your team to be there in your corner and really, truly care about you.”