Oswego baby with rare liver disease receives transplant from his father

"Somehow, some way, everything lined up and I just happened to be the perfect match"

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An 8-month-old baby with a rare liver disease from Oswego is back home recovering after receiving a transplant from his father, just in time for Father's Day weekend.

“It’s hard to explain how grateful that I am I get to spend another day with my son,” Basil Zager said.

Their medical journey began last November when Zager and his wife, Caroline, couldn’t figure out what was wrong with their son.

“We took him in for his two-month check up and he always had jaundice we always noticed, he was always a bit yellow and we’re first time parents,” he said. “We were always told it’s going to go away. We weren’t sure what to expect.”

After many trips to the pediatrician’s office and seeing a specialist, their baby Swayer was diagnosed with biliary atresia by doctors at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

“Essentially, his bile ducts of his liver weren’t functioning properly since birth, so his liver had no way to get rid of the bile and it just beat up his liver over time,” he said.

Swayer had stage four liver failure and was placed on the transplant waiting list.

“It’s still very rare it’s about 1 in ten thousand births that are affected by biliary atresia despite the fact it’s the most common reason why kids need liver transplant,” Dr. Alyssa Kriegermeier of Lurie Children's Hospital said.

His parents knew the risk of waiting and thought about a living donor.

They discovered Zager was a match.

“I was told that generally nine out of 10 people get turned away and somehow, some way, everything lined up and I just happened to be the perfect match for Swayer,” Zager said.

Both Zager and his son underwent surgery in March. Zager donated the left lobe of his liver to his son.

“The first time I got to see him, I broke down. You see your little boy and he’s all doctored up and everything and he’s got tubes coming out of his nose,” he said. “I lost it. He didn’t know any better he just smiled. He melted me. Right then and there, I knew everything was going to be okay.”

Swayer’s liver is now being studied to help researchers.

“We still don’t understand what causes biliary atresia. There’s not a clear-cut genetic cause, but we think from what we learned so far about the disease there’s something that happens in the utero before the baby is born that’s probably a combination of things,” Kriegermeier said.

Swayer is bouncing back and will celebrate his first birthday in September.

“It’s a dream come true you know, God answered all my prayers. He really did,” Zager said.

Zager added that him and his family are grateful for their team of doctors, support from loved ones and for Swayer's second chance at life..

“I’m just looking forward to spending time with him,” Zager said. “I’m going to hold him extra hard, cuddle him a little more on Father’s Day. It means the world to me.”

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