Published: July 18, 2012
Updated: July 18, 2012
by Nikki Cooper, mother of Jimmy Vanlandingham
I lived in Havelock, North Carolina, when I delivered my son Jimmy, May, 2011. He was a perfectly healthy baby and the next day we were discharged from the hospital. Ten days later my Mom noticed something was wrong with him; the whites of his eyes were yellow. On the eleventh day he stopped eating his bottles and didn’t sleep as much as he had before. I knew this was not normal -- he had always slept.
I was told to take him to the emergency room at the hospital in New Bern by the pediatrician. The hospital did several tests, including checking his stomach and taking blood samples. I noticed he didn’t stop bleeding after they pricked his foot for blood and informed the nurses about this, they took him again to do more tests. Thirty minutes went by and I went looking for my child, that’s when I saw the nurses were trying to get blood from his arm and he wasn’t even reacting to the pain.
The doctor told me that JJ was very sick and needed to be flown to Duke immediately. His blood would not clot and the results from the liver tests had come back abnormal. Once Duke arrived they had to change plans and fly him to Greenville to give him platelets to help him start to clot and continue to fly on to Duke Hospital.
My Mom and I drove three hours to Duke and when I was able to see him I was really scared. He looked very sick, he had all kinds of tubes, wires, and bandages on him and he wasn’t alert. My baby looked very different than just the day before, he didn’t look like my child. His father immediately flew down to see him from Rhode Island, this was the first time he had seen his baby boy, it was very heartbreaking.
Many different doctors and nurses came to see JJ and try to figure out what was wrong with my son. The medical staff at Duke was very nice and made sure I was informed with everything they were doing. I can’t remember who it was that told me first, but I’ll never forget the words, “He is in liver failure and needs a liver transplant.”
The doctors in Duke's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit made sure me and my family understood what was going on all along the way. We sat down and they explained that Jimmy needed to have a liver transplant, immediately. He was placed on the liver transplant list right away and then they spoke to us about living donor options. I wanted to donate my liver, but I couldn’t because it was too early from post-op delivery. His father who is a United States Marine recruiter couldn’t do it, he had to fly back to Rhode Island for work and couldn’t take time off for surgery. My Dad wasn’t the right blood type and my 16 year old brother was too young.
My mom was the right blood type and she volunteered to begin testing to see if she would be a good match to donate. Our family talked about it and decided she would be the best candidate to try and donate.
The next day she went through all day testing to see if she was healthy enough to be a living donor. The doctor told us that she was a perfect match for JJ’s liver transplant so the very next day they both went into surgery. The day of surgery my family prayed and waited, and nine hours later, after surgery, the doctor came and told us that everything went fine. Later that day my Dad told me that they had to resuscitate Jimmy during surgery, his heart had stopped beating. The next day after surgery the doctor’s told me that JJ was not recovering well from the transplant. My mother’s recovery was going very good, but JJ’s kidney’s didn’t start working and he was filling up with fluid. His kidneys were not filtering out the fluid in J and he started swelling up, he was not urinating … this was not normal.
JJ continued to retain more fluid, his eyes were hardly visible and his skin became very tight. The doctor’s told me it was the HSV virus that originally caused this problem with his liver and now his kidneys were not responding to the medication. I was told that he was too young for dialysis; they were willing to try some other medication as a last resort. The family was called together and a chaplain held a vigil for him there at the hospital. We prayed as a family for God to give us strength to handle whatever was about to come our way. The doctor’s had already told us that JJ may not make it much longer if his kidneys did not start working.
Later that same night, my Dad stayed by JJ and prayed and cried over my son for more than 45 minutes. After what seemed like years, when he finally opened his eyes he noticed that JJ had started urinating. Little by little, we saw better and better things happening; he started interacting with us and could look at a toy mobile hung above his bed. The medical staff at Duke called him a miracle baby.
Once JJ was moved to a different room and put on a CPAP machine, his dad was able to hold his son for the first time ever. It was amazing to see!
We did therapy. He was tube feeding. I could bathe him, I could hold him, and he interacted with us without worry he would get too excited.
After staying at Duke for more than one month, we were finally able to go home. My dad and I had to learn how to replace the feeding tube into JJ’s stomach three times before we could leave the hospital. I had to learn about all the different medication he was to take twice a day and go through special infant care before I could bring him home. It was hard and scary for me. JJ was two months old once I could bring him home; he had only been two weeks old when he had his transplant surgery.
If you look at him now, you would not know anything was ever wrong with him. He is a healthy happy 10 month old baby who loves to smile and brings such joy to my life and hope to other people who were supporting us throughout everything we went through. He is able to use a baby bottle now, eat regular baby food and enjoys watching SpongeBob on tv.
I now live in Rhode Island and love every moment with him. I wouldn’t change a thing; he is a bundle of joy. A friend of mine said one time, “I don’t know how you do it -- it’s a lot of work!”. It’s really not --I remind myself that I can do it and it has become normal to me. JJ is here for a reason.
My personal experience: I didn’t know how to react to all this at first, so I distanced myself from him. My advice to other parents is to be there with your child and just let them know you love them. Even if they can’t talk back to you, they do know you are there for them. Keep praying, have faith and never give up hope. Everything happens for a reason!
By Carla Cooper, grandmother of Jimmy Vanlandingham
This experience touched a lot of people’s lives. It was a very spiritual, personal, and emotional event for our family. My husband probably endured more than we really realize. He was there for our grandson after surgery and he was there taking care of me during my recovery.
I learned so much about the importance of living donors, how the liver works and how this kind of event can draw a family closer to each other. You certainly gain a different opinion on what is really important in your life.
I believe any mother, if given the opportunity, would do what I did. I can’t take credit for being a “hero” or saving someone’s life, I can only say that God helped me and my family through a very difficult time.
The recovery process for me wasn’t easy, but I did recovery well and was back to work in six weeks. I haven’t had to go back to the hospital for any health related complications.
People at Duke are amazing. I was completely at ease with what I went through, they made sure I knew what I needed to know and gave me the utmost respect. The medical staff at Duke are very caring and empathetic to the situation.