A Vancouver Island teen who survived two liver transplants within 24 hours was looking forward to a visit from her boyfriend on Thursday.
Tessa Williams, 15, has a rare form of liver cancer called fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma. Only 200 people are diagnosed worldwide each year.
Tessa, who is from Black Creek, 16 kilometres north of Courtenay, underwent her first liver transplant midnight Sunday at Vancouver General Hospital. When that operation failed, she received a second liver on Monday between 11 and midnight, said her mother, Dawn McQuinn.
McQuinn said the surgeon has deemed the second transplant a success so far. Doctors were keeping an eye on internal bleeding. Tessa, in intensive care under heavy medication, had already walked twice with assistance.
Her mother said that Tessa even managed “a little smile” several times.
“She’s coming along, but the pain’s starting to set in and I think the realization of everything is starting to set in,” McQuinn said.
“She’s a typical teenager. She has a boyfriend, Easton, who’s coming over today [from Courtenay] to see her.”
Tessa is expected to leave the hospital within two weeks. After that, McQuinn and her daughter will stay for three months at an apartment near the hospital. It’s paid for by You Are Not Alone (YANA), a Courtenay non-profit society that assists families who must travel for their children’s medical treatment.
McQuinn, who works as a nurse, is in Vancouver with Tessa’s sister, Kayla Williams, her husband and her ex-husband, Tessa’s father.
Although she’s “cautiously optimistic” about her daughter’s health, she said the week has been an emotional roller-coaster.
Tessa was taken to Vancouver by ferry Sunday after receiving word a liver was available after a 15-month wait. The first operation failed because the blood supply to the liver began to clot. The dying organ was removed and the teen was placed in a induced coma.
Tessa is on the national transplant list. “Miraculously, there was a second liver right handy,” McQuinn said.
After the second operation, the family spent a fretful night wondering whether Tessa would survive.
“They didn’t know if the second one was going to work. They were just putting it in to keep her alive until she got the right one. But it did work.”
Tessa was diagnosed with fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma in 2014. Before her most recent operations, she had surgery to remove two-thirds of her liver. Since she was five, she has suffered regular nausea and pain. However, for years doctors were stumped as to the cause.
Tessa has told her story on YouTube, hoping to raise awareness about the need for organ donations. McQuinn said her daughter has received supportive messages from people in Canada, the U.S., England and Ireland.
According to the Canadian Liver Foundation, almost 75 per cent of liver transplant patients are alive five years after their operations.
McQuinn said watching her daughter endure two consecutive liver transplants left her feeling “very numb” at times.
However, she remains hopeful.
“Every day gets a little more positive,” she said.