3-year-old to receive life-saving liver donation from mother

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SALT LAKE CITY — For Becky and Mona Cope, Primary Children’s Hospital has been like a second home for the past three years.

Three-year-old Mona’s liver is failing, but after several medical appointments, tests and waiting, things are about to change for the better. On Wednesday, Mona’s mother will be donating part of her liver to her daughter.

When Mona was born, she was jaundiced, her father, Landon Cope, said. While that’s not unusual, it didn’t go away. Then when she was 2 months old, Mona was diagnosed with biliary atresia.

“(It's) a liver disease," the girl's father said. "The bile duct doesn’t form properly so the liver can’t drain the bile, which causes the jaundice.”

Mona underwent the Kasai procedure, which essential gave her a temporary bile duct. It gave her time to grow and become a better candidate for a liver transplant.

For some patients, the procedure can last years to decades. For Mona, it is starting to fail.

“Her belly is enlarged. Her liver and her spleen are bloated,” Landon Cope said. “She keeps getting infections and has to be admitted to the hospital.”

Mona’s parents, from Pleasant Grove, did some research. They found out Mona was sick but not sick enough to put her at the top of the transplant list.

I just feel like I'm giving her life again, and it feels really good.

–Becky Cope, mother

They discussed several options and asked doctors about living donor transplants. These types of transplants are rare but not unheard of. Since the 1990s, Primary Children's Hospital has performed only 25 adult-to-child liver transplants.

“Mona is like a clone of Becky,” Landon Cope said. “They’re alike in every way.”

The size of Becky Cope's liver and blood type are a perfect match. She will donate 25 percent of her healthy liver to her daughter.

“I feel really at peace and excited and just grateful,” she said. "I honestly think most parents would want to do it.”

Mona has lived a normal life for the most part.

“She’s a happy kid. She loves to sing and dance. She never has an appetite, but she loves to pretend she’s trying new foods,” her father said.

“As a father, it’s been really hard,” Landon Cope said, “just especially the unknown.”

But the transplant doesn't come without risk.

"I'm nervous,” Landon Cope said. “I think it will really hit home when we come in on Wednesday, and we come in that morning. They’ll be in surgery rooms right next to each other. That will be the hardest time.”

“I just feel like I’m giving her life again, and it feels really good,” Becky Cope said.

If all goes well, 90 percent of Becky Cope's liver will regenerate in just six weeks, and the family will hopefully close the door on all those medical appointments and hospital stays.

“Our hopes are that she can grow up and be happy and have all the experiences a kid should have,” Landon Cope said.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc


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