Tyrone and Tisha Hibbler hold their son, King, outside in Durham.
When King Hibbler was born in March 2021, he appeared healthy aside from jaundice, a common condition in newborns that often resolves on its own. Neither doctors nor his parents suspected that he had a more serious disease called biliary atresia, which, if left unchecked, can lead to liver failure and other dire complications. Thanks to his mom, who donated part of her liver, King underwent a liver transplant at Duke and is now a healthy, active one-year old.
A Serious Diagnosis
When King’s newborn jaundice did not resolve following treatment, his parents, Tisha and Tyrone Hibbler, took him for testing near their home in Charlotte, NC. Within two weeks of his birth, doctors diagnosed King with biliary atresia -- a blockage in the ducts that carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder. If biliary atresia is not treated, it can affect physical growth and brain development and have serious health implications. “Most children born with this condition eventually require a liver transplant,” said Deepak Vikraman, MD, a pediatric liver transplant surgeon at Duke.
Trying to Postpone Liver Transplant
In an attempt to buy time for King to grow bigger and stronger for transplant surgery, when he was six weeks old, doctors at the Hibblers’ local hospital performed a Kasai procedure to reroute bile flow from the liver into the intestine. Unfortunately, it didn’t help. “King became more jaundiced and started showing signs of progressive liver dysfunction,” said Dr. Vikraman. The baby needed a liver transplant, but the surgery would be complex because he only weighed 10 pounds. His doctors referred him to Duke, which has the largest pediatric liver transplant program in North Carolina. “King’s doctors felt Duke had more resources and more experience working with babies of his size,” said Tyrone Hibbler.
Living Liver Donation Shortens Time to Transplant
After a complete evaluation at Duke, King was placed on the national liver transplant waitlist. “If a child gets listed, we usually get them transplanted in three to six months, said Dr. Vikraman. But the Hibblers did not want to wait that long. “I immediately volunteered to be a living donor, but my liver was too large. His mom said, ‘I want to try,’ and she checked out with flying colors,” said King’s father. They were scheduled for surgery soon afterward.
Relying on a Strong Support System
On January 17, 2022, Tisha and King underwent successful surgeries that lasted a total of 16 hours and included two separate surgical transplant teams -- one to remove the left lobe of Tisha’s liver and another for King’s transplantation. After they left the hospital, the family spent a month in a nearby hotel to recover and attend follow-up appointments. It was a challenging time for Tisha, who could not see King because of COVID restrictions. A strong support system helped them through. “You can't do this all by yourself,” she said. “Both our mothers, family, friends, and the team at Duke have just been fantastic,” added Tyrone.
A Normal Childhood
Today King’s liver is fully functional, and his development is on target. His mother’s donation also gives him an advantage. “Being a perfect match helped his body accept the liver so the amount of immunosuppression that is required to prevent rejection is lower,” Dr. Vikraman explained. “King can have a normal childhood now that he has had a liver transplant.”