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Organ Transplant Saves Child's Life During Hurricane Sandy

Amid all the remarkable stories to emerge after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Jersey Shore and Lower Manhattan last month, one stands out as what many would describe as miraculous. Natalia Dreeland, a 4-year-old girl who was suffering from a rare but potentially life-threatening disease that required a liver transplant. From The New York Times:

"[The disease] causes a tremendous overgrowth of a type of cell in the immune system and can damage organs. Drugs can sometimes keep it in check, but they did not work for Natalia.

In her case, the disease struck the bile ducts, which led to progressive liver damage. "She would have eventually gone into liver failure," said Dr. Nadia Ovchinsky, a pediatric liver transplant specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian. "And she demonstrated some signs of early liver failure."

The only hope was a transplant.

The call Natalia's parents had so eagerly awaited--that a liver had become available for Natalia--came at the worst possible time, though--just as Hurricane Sandy bore down on the region.

At the hospital in New York, Tod Brown, an organ procurement coordinator, had alerted a charter air carrier that a flight from Nevada might be needed. That company in turn contacted West Coast carriers to pick up the donated liver and fly it to New York.

Initially, two carriers agreed, but then backed out. Several other charter companies also declined.

Mr. Brown told Dr. Kato that they might have to decline the organ. Dr. Kato, soft-spoken but relentless, said, "Find somebody who can fly."

Finally, one of the charter companies made the flight, and Natalia had her surgery as the storm raged.

Three weeks later, she is back home, on the mend. The complicated regimen of drugs that transplant patients need is tough on a child, but she is getting through it, her father said.

Recently, Mr. Dreeland said, he found himself weeping uncontrollably during a church service for the family of the child who had died. "Their child gave my child life," he said.

Though only time will tell, because the histiocytosis appeared limited to Natalia's bile ducts and had not affected other organs, her doctors say there is a good chance that the transplant has cured her."

Image: Hospital room, via Shutterstock