Four-and-a-half years ago, Adeline Rollins received a liver transplant in a race against time. Just 14-months old, Adeline would not survive the rare defect that was destroying her liver without a transplant by age 2, her doctor said.
She had been desperately ill since her condition was diagnosed six days after her birth, with frequent trips to the hospital where she was put under anesthesia so excess fluids could be drained from her liver. She couldn’t walk or even stand and took all her nourishment through a feeding tube. She spent most of her young life sleeping, sometimes up to 16 to 20 hours a day.
On Feb. 20, 2018, her mom, Margaret Rollins, donated 30 percent of her liver for Adeline’s transplant during an 8-hour surgery at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Before the surgery, the Rollins were told that 1 in 4 children Adeline’s age do not survive the surgery. Doctors also told the family that if everything went perfectly, Adeline might someday be able to lead a normal life.
So how is Adeline faring? Swimmingly, you could say, and she has the gold medal to prove it.
The Rollins returned from San Diego last week after Adeline and Margaret, along with 16 other Mississippi transplant recipients and donors, competed in the Donate Life Transplant Games. The annual event attracted teams of recipients/donors from 40 states as well as Brazil, Colombia and Australia.
Adeline, one of the youngest competitors, not only brought home a gold medal in swimming, but in the 25-meter run, softball throw, long jump and station games.
The games only confirmed what the Rollins have been observing as Adeline continues her recovery.
“She’s doing phenomenal,” Margaret Rollins said. “You wouldn’t even know anything is wrong. She is, in all aspects, healthy. She weighs more than her 7-year-old brother (Walker) and is as tall as him. She’s bigger than most of her peers.”
Tuesday will provide another example of Adeline’s progress. For most of her life, her parents had to take pains that Adeline would not be exposed to even common illnesses that most children encounter that could be major health risks for a child whose health was already compromised. This was particularly important when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its worst.
But on Tuesday, Adeline will start kindergarten classes at Heritage Elementary School.
It’s a sure sign of how far she has come.
“Life does feel a lot more normal now,” Margaret said. “There are days that go by that I don’t even think about all we’ve been through. To see other families going through that, people that reach out to us, it’s kind of shocking to see, even though we’ve been through it ourselves.”
The Donate Life Transplant Games aren’t just a competition. The games are a chance to share experiences, promote transplants and show respect for the donors and donor families who mean so much to the transplant recipients.
“Adeline really enjoyed it,” Margaret said. “We were able to meet some other liver transplant recipients who had the transplant as children and are now in their 20s. It was kind of like looking into the future.”
Adeline obviously has no memory of the transplant. Most of what she knows is about her condition is about the yearly check-ups and quarterly blood work.
“She understands she has to go get pokies (blood draws) and to be a big girl who doesn’t cry,” Margaret said. “She knows every year, we have to go check on her happy liver.”
Adeline is a clever girl, so she is not above working her condition to her favor sometimes.
“She’s quite funny,” Margaret said. “She and her brother were arguing wrestling around one day, and she comes to me with these big fake tears in her eyes and said, ‘Momma, Walker punched me in the liver!’”
Clearly, Adeline has gone from surviving to thriving.
“She’s doing great,” Margaret said. “We all are. Better than we could have ever imagined.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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