Brayden's super liver

Four-year-old Brayden has a scar the size of a dinner plate on his stomach – and he’s not afraid to show it off. Why? Because underneath that scar is his super liver.

Almost a year ago, Brayden fell gravely ill. In a matter of days he went from being a happy, healthy boy who loved to run and play to lying in a hospital bed, with no energy and a yellow tinge that his mum, Kim, knew wasn’t right.

The days that followed involved countless blood tests, ultrasounds and a liver biopsy that revealed what was making Brayden so unwell – his liver was failing very quickly.

Brayden was transferred from his local hospital near Maitland to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, where he was diagnosed with a rare liver condition called Fulminant Liver Failure. The condition affects just a handful of children in Australia each year and is characterised by the sudden onset of acute liver failure in people who have had no previous liver problems.

Fulminant Liver Failure can be caused by some prescription medications, certain viruses or autoimmune conditions but in Brayden’s case, the reason his liver began to fail is still a mystery.

With Brayden’s condition deteriorating quickly, doctors knew a transplant would be his only option and they knew it needed to happen quickly.

Brayden was placed on the organ transplant waiting list and thankfully, after just two days, his family received the news that they had found a match and Brayden could have his transplant.

But this wasn’t going to be any normal transplant, because Brayden wasn’t going to have his liver replaced, instead he was going to live with two.

Brayden’s surgeons, Dr Gordon Thomas and Dr Albert Shun, performed the APOLT procedure on Brayden’s liver -  a surgery that has  been performed successfully on one other patient in Australia, by these same two surgeons.

The APOLT (Auxiliary partial orthotopic liver transplantation) procedure, also known as a split liver transplant, involves removing only the left half of the damaged liver (instead of removing the entire liver) and attaching a portion of the donor liver in its place. This procedure enables the donor organ to perform the vital function of the liver, while allowing the native, damaged liver to slowly recover. Once the native liver recovers, the donor liver can be removed. 

This process can take up to a year but if successful, it means children, like Brayden, can avoid being on immunosuppressants for life, giving them back a normal childhood.

While recovery was slow going and not without its challenges, Brayden’s surgery was overall a success and he was able to return home nine weeks later. Since then, he has proudly shown off his ‘shark bite’ scar as proof of the superpowers lying beneath.

This month though, Brayden faced the ultimate test. It was time to remove the donor liver and see if his own liver could function by itself. Brayden was fearful his superpowers would be lost in the operation but doctors were confident this wouldn’t be the case – and rightly so. His liver had not only grown back and recovered, but was performing even better than the donated organ, which was still in prime condition.

Brayden breezed through surgery and soon discovered that it was his own liver that was housing his superpowers all along.

For Brayden, the future is now bright thanks to his incredible surgeons, his generous organ donor and his super liver.

Watch Brayden's story on The Project. To find out more about organ donation or to register your decision, visit www.donatelife.gov.au