In September 2007, Aidan Diederich celebrated his first birthday with all of his friends and family at a weekend carnival party. A few days later, on a Tuesday morning his parents, Heather and Jeff had gotten the wonderful news that Heather was pregnant again with their second child. Happily, they went in to wake up Aidan and celebrate. What they found terrified them.
Aidan apparently had been vomiting; he was jaundiced and his skin was ashy. “I thought he was dead when I lifted him out of the crib,” says Jeff, a firefighter and EMT. “I didn’t panic when I lifted him out of the crib or even when I had Heather call 911. It was when I put Aidan on Heather’s lap in the rescue squad that my heart broke. Heather’s anxiety and depression was tearing me up. Aidan looked so sick and pale. I’ve seen sick and dying people at work for a long time. It’s terrifying when you see your own son dying right in front of you and there isn’t anything you can do about it. It was the worst moment of my life” explains Jeff. Aidan was rushed to the local hospital, and then to the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital for more acute care. He was barely hanging on.
Within hours, Heather and Jeff received the shocking news from doctors: Aidan was in “acute liver failure”. The cause was unknown and there were no previous signs or symptoms. Heather and Jeff had family members rush back to their home to go through trash and pick up massage oil that Heather had used the night before. They were trying to think of everything to explain this sudden, life threatening sickness. Allergies were ruled out, but they still didn’t have any answers. Aidan’s doctors put him on the national transplant waiting list, but he was running out of time. Aidan’s brain began to swell and septicemia set in. “We almost lost him” said Heather. Aidan’s little body became really stiff and rigid because his brain wasn’t functioning properly. All his vital organs were in jeopardy and beginning to shut down.
By Wednesday afternoon, with no donor liver available, 12 family members and friends “willing to risk their lives to save our son” Heather explained, offered themselves as live donors. Working feverishly, Aidan’s doctors reduced several weeks of testing to a mere eight hours. On Wednesday night, a miracle came through…Heather’s 28 year old brother Jeff Shoemaker, was a match! Jeff was very fit. He loves life and loves the rush of snowboarding and white water rafting. “He’s amazing” Heather said of her younger brother.
On Thursday morning, September 6, 2007, “Uncle Jeff” and Aidan made history as Cleveland Clinic’s first emergency live liver donor transplant patients.
It has been over a year since Aidan’s transplant and he is “a very happy, energetic and outgoing kid who loves everyone. He’s a CRAZY MAN” his Dad explained. Life for Aidan and his family has been challenging for the last year. He had some infections, and several other surgeries, but overall, “he’s great”. Aidan’s Uncle Jeff, is also doing remarkably well. He was out of the hospital after a few days, and was back to work in just 6 weeks! Jeff is now training to be a paramedic. Heather said after the situation with Aidan, Jeff knew “without question that being a paramedic was the right job for him”. With a crackle in her voice, Heather said “ever sense the surgery, there has been this connection that is magical and yet weird between Aidan and my brother, you can see it. Aidan responds to his Uncle Jeff in a whole new way… they have this mystical, magical connection… Aidan was only a year old, but somehow, he knew this was the man that saved his life”. For everyone who knows and loves Aidan, his life is a miracle.
As his parents — and we at the American Liver Foundation — know, though, Aidan also owes his life to the scientific discoveries that have improved diagnosis, transplantation and post-transplant care.
ALF is the largest, non-governmental funder of liver research here in the U.S. And with the federal government freezing medical research budgets over the past few years, our investment is even more crucial.
That gives families like the Diederichs tremendous hope — for their own son, as well as other children whose lives are put in jeopardy by this devastating disease.
This Holiday Season, the Diederichs will surround themselves with family and friends who have helped them through the most trying year of their lives. They know they have the greatest gift of all — their two wonderful boys. Aidan’s little brother Sullivan, a healthy and vibrant baby boy, was born in May!
Today, we ask you to share the gift of caring with the 30 million men, women and children who will face the challenges of liver disease in the year ahead. As we all struggle through these days of tightened resources, your continued generosity is appreciated more than ever.
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