Cooper Hanks, son of Josh and Kristen Hanks, has had a wild ride for a 12 year old, and all before he was 2!
Cooper was born with a rare liver disease, biliary atresia, where the bile ducts outside of the liver are not properly formed, therefore the bilirubin cannot drain. It causes severe liver damage and, even with proper treatment and surgery, can require a liver transplant.
Cooper had surgery at 2 months to remove the bile ducts and to make a way for the bile to drain (the Kasai Procedure). His blood work continued to show elevated bilirubin levels as well as other liver enzymes. Liver disease affects the way you look, feel and even grow. Cooper struggled with weight gain and had a large belly due to excess fluid produced by his liver. He has always had a yellow tint to his skin and eyes. Yet, through the surgeries, hospital stays and medicines, Cooper was a happy little boy. He was doing almost everything any boy his age could do. His parents monitored his eating, temps and moods all very closely to make sure he wasn’t getting sick. For 12 months, Cooper was able to stay out of the hospital, though the talk of a transplant was always in the back of their minds.
At the beginning of August, when he was 16 months old, Cooper showed signs of dehydration. He was taken to Texas Children’s Hospital and was treated for severe dehydration and also a very serious blood infection! He became very sick while the doctors tried to find the source of his infection. After being hospitalized for over a week, the doctors determined he had several abscesses in his liver. They tried to drain them, but in the end, decided he would have to have a new liver. Josh and Kristen were devastated. How long would this take? Will he continue to be this sick until he gets a new liver? Will he get to go home? There were too many questions that no one could answer.
The next day Josh and Kristen went through the process of getting Cooper on the transplant list. He was officially listed at approximately 3:30 PM. Now all that could be done was to wait for a match! They were told it could take weeks to months or even longer to get an acceptable match. At approximately 6:30 PM (that same night!) they got a call that there was a match! Just 3 short hours on the transplant list and Cooper had a match! A Miracle! There is no other word to describe it! All of the doctors said it was a record and they had never seen it happen so fast!
Cooper had surgery the next day (August 17) to transplant his new liver! The doctors told Josh and Kristen to expect him to do really well for the first few days, then for him to get really sick and require a ventilator and other devices to help him breathe and function. But, of course, Cooper did better than anyone expected! He did need a little help breathing but didn’t need a ventilator and fairly quickly recovered from this very complicated surgery. He was moved out of the ICU and into a regular room where he focused on learning how to sit up, crawl and even stand again! He had a tube put in to feed him milk until he can get the proper nutrition on his own.
Just before Cooper was scheduled to leave the hospital, he got a virus that kept him there for an additional week. Although he soon got over the virus, Cooper’s liver numbers were continuing to elevate. He had another procedure, a liver biopsy that determined he was experiencing a little rejection from his new liver. This is completely normal, just not typically seen until about 3 months post-transplant…but as already seen with Cooper, everything happens faster than normal! He got a few days of extra large doses of anit-rejection drugs and was finally able to leave the hospital on September 16! Just 4 weeks after having a transplant!
He had a few setbacks during his first year after transplant, and even a few procedures along his journey. Today he’s a very happy and healthy 12 year old! It’s been over 11 years since his transplant and he has been able to share his story with others and how he’s able to do anything he wants to do in life (within reason of course!) He loves playing video games, sports, music and his little sister and puppy! It’s such a joy to see him growing and healthy!
Your generous gift will help us fulfill our mission to inform Texans about liver health and liver disease, and to improve their quality of life and outcomes through education, advocacy and partnership. All donations remain in the community.