Time running out for Carissa

Fifteen-month-old Carissa Micana Thomas is in urgent need of a liver.

Fifteen-month-old Carissa Micana Thomas, of Bonteheuwel, is in urgent need of a liver.

Carissa is blood-type O positive and while her dad is a match, the size of his liver, even when divided into smaller parts, is too big for her body and therefore not suitable.

Head of the transplant department at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, Professor Mignon McCulloch, explained while the paediatric list for organ transplants was not that long, very few South Africans donated their organs.

“For various reasons, people in this country refuse to become organ donors,” she said. “Many say their religions do not allow it. The country is in serious need of organ donors.”

Professor McCulloch urged more people to consider becoming organ donors. It was important for them to make the decision while they were still alive and not leave it up to their families to decide after they had died, she said.

August is also National Organ Donor Awareness Month.

Little Carissa was born with yellow jaundice. At three months she stopped breathing, and when doctors ran tests they found she had biliary atresia – a condition in infants where the bile ducts outside and inside the liver are scarred and blocked. Bile can’t flow into the intestine, so it builds up in the liver and damages it. This leads to scarring, resulting in loss of liver tissue and function, and cirrhosis.

Carissa had surgery at four months to remove the blockage in her bile duct, but it was unsuccessful. The family now has the option to have the transplant done at the Wits Donald Gordan Hospital in Johannesburg, as hospitals in Cape Town aren’t doing the surgeries because of Covid-19, but first they need to find a liver. 

Carissa’s mom, Cayle Thomas, said her daughter did not have much time left. “It is very sad to see her like this and not be able to help her. She itches a lot because of the jaundice, and her spleen is swollen because of the bile.”

Ms Thomas, who also has a 3-year-old daughter, said the situation was financially and emotionally draining but her husband’s employer had helped them with the first trip to Johannesburg and their church with the second.

For more information about organ donation, contact the Organ Donor Foundation toll-free on 0800 22 66 11 or visit www.odf.org.za