10-year-old's mystery liver donor 'recovering well'

SINGAPORE - The mystery man who donated part of his liver on Wednesday morning to a 10-year-old girl he only read about is recovering well.

Dr Alfred Kow, who was in charge of operating on the donor, said the six-hour operation went off smoothly, but the man will need to be closely monitored over the next few days.

But for Phyllis Poh, who received the liver in an eight-hour operation, the next 72 hours will be especially critical, said Professor K. Prabhakaran, who operated on her.

"The surgery went well, with no major issues," he said last night.

Both operations took place at National University Hospital - the national paediatric transplant centre here.

A spokesman said NUH has done close to 100 living donor liver transplants with no serious complications since 1990.

Professor Quak Seng Hock, head of paediatric gastroenterology at NUH, has been looking after Phyllis and her 12-year-old brother Skye, who had his own liver transplant last year. He said the road to recovery could last as long as a year.

Following her transplant, Phyllis would need to stay on immunosuppressant drugs to prevent rejection of the liver.

After the first six to 12 months, the dosage of the drugs will be reduced.

But until then, she would be susceptible to infections and would have to avoid crowds and wear a mask for the first few months, he explained.

If all goes well, Prof Quak added, "she is expected to be able to attend normal school and take part in normal school activities".

The siblings required new livers because they cannot produce a critical enzyme due to a genetic condition called glycogen storage disease.

The enzyme is needed to break down glycogen - the body's store of sugar. Without it, the glycogen simply accumulates in the liver, where it is stored. This often results in the liver swelling.

The body also cannot use the glycogen to regulate the blood-sugar level, and this affects physical and neurological growth.

That is why the siblings had always been the shortest in their classes.

Because of the condition, they cannot take white sugar and need a regular feed of uncooked starch, such as cornstarch - which they take mixed with water at night before sleeping.

The accumulation of unused glucose in the liver can also cause patients to develop tumours there in their teens, which could become cancerous.

After doctors found two small tumours in Skye last year, it made the need for a transplant - which would provide him with the missing enzyme and normalise his development - more acute. His mother, Madam Joanne Ng, a 36-year-old housewife, gave him part of her liver.

Since his operation last February, Skye has shot up by over 10cm. Before her surgery, Phyllis, a Primary 5 pupil at Bedok Green Primary School, said she hoped that the same will happen to her.

She is now shorter than her seven- year-old sister Phoebe, who does not have the disease.

She also said she was looking forward to meeting "the uncle" who gave her part of his liver, to thank him. Before being admitted to hospital on Monday ahead of her operation, she made him a card covered with her favourite stickers.

The man in his 40s did not know the family at all, except for what he read in an article in The Straits Times in November last year about Skye's performance in the Primary School Leaving Examination.

In the report, Skye appealed for someone to help his sister.

salma@sph.com.sg

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