GREEN BAY – Lydia Pennenberg is a happy baby — she’s alert, feeds easily and gives her parents sleepy smiles while they hold her.
You wouldn’t know by looking at her that there’s anything wrong, her dad, Andy Pennenberg, said.
And at first, there didn’t seem to be. Born on Feb. 16 at Bellin Hospital in Green Bay, Lydia is Andy and Jessica Pennenberg’s third child and the Greenleaf couple’s first daughter. It was a smooth pregnancy, Jessica said Friday, and the couple headed home just 24 hours after a similarly smooth birth.
It wasn’t until they received the baby’s bloodwork that it appeared something might be off: She had high levels of bilirubin, a yellow pigment of red blood cells that can cause jaundice in infants. After a week with no change, her pediatrician recommended they see a specialist at Children’s Wisconsin Hospital in Milwaukee.
Their initial outpatient went well. They were in the car headed back up north when the doctor called and asked them to turn around.
A few days later, Lydia was diagnosed with acute liver failure. The path forward was clear: She needed a transplant.
“You hope for the best,” Andy said, “but your mind always goes to the worst.”
Liver failure in babies isn’t common. Sometimes, a virus or other liver diseases can cause the failure. In other cases, like Lydia’s, doctors can’t pinpoint why it happened.
Because of her age, Lydia can’t receive just any liver, and the pool of prospective donors is small.
People’s livers make up about 2% of their total body weight, Sova explained, so every person who needs a transplant will have different donor requirements based on weight. Because Lydia weighs in at just a few pounds right now, she’ll need to be matched with a petite adult.
If a live donor is found, they’ll need to meet the following qualifications:
- A healthy adult between 18 and 40 years old
- Type A or O blood
- Weigh around 80 pounds or less
She could also receive a liver from a deceased child, or a split graft donation in which she would reveive part of a liver from a deceased adult.
Froedtert Health’s transplant team, which will handle Lydia’s case when the time comes, has done eight liver transplants from adults to children, said Shannon Sova, liver transplant nurse coordinator for Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin.
People who meet the criteria for a live donor and are interested in donating should fill out a donor form at froedtert.com/liver-donor. If you pass an initial screening, a coordinator will reach out with more information. Only people who are a potential match will be contacted.
In the meantime, Lydia, her two older brothers and her parents will keep “hanging in there,” Andy said.
They have their ups and downs, their good days and bad, he said, but their number one goal is to find a live donor for their daughter.
“We believe that there is somebody out there,” her father said. “Somebody just needs to hear the story.”
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