Ryan Agnew was a normal 10 year-old... happy, healthy and very athletic. Then one day, his mom Connie received a call from the school informing her that Ryan was suffering from severe stomach pains.
With no fever and no other apparent signs of illness, he returned to school the next day, only to be sent home again with similar symptoms. This pattern continued for a number of days until Connie noticed that Ryan was severely jaundiced.
Blood tests revealed that Ryan's liver enzyme level was over 2,500, compared to normal levels of around 40. Ryan was admitted to the hospital. A barrage of test ruled out the obvious possibilities, including hepatitis and cancer. Meanwhile, Ryan's condition was worsening. His urine had turned dark brown and he was vomiting dried blood. He was also severely dehydrated.
The hospital could not find the cause of his illness. Connie could not make sense of the situation. Ryan had no history of liver ailments. She kept him away from pain relievers and other medications that could possibly cause liver damage. Finally, the hospital informed Connie there was nothing more they could do.
It was apparent that Ryan needed a transplant. His hospital was not capable of performing the procedure, and Connie was desperate. That's when the pediatrician recommended Yale New Haven. In fact, Ryan's current hospital was already consulting with YNHH specialists on his condition. "Yale New Haven is beyond anything imaginable, medically," said Connie. "Ryan wasn't even in his hospital room for 30 seconds -- there were 12 doctors by his bedside."
The Yale New Haven team monitored Ryan around the clock. When he was admitted, Ryan's condition put him in the middle of the list for a new liver. But as his condition deteriorated, he was moved up to number one. Though Connie was a match, the YNHH team was cautious not to put both mother and child in a critical situation.
On October 26, 2009, the news came that a donor had been found. After 12 hours of surgery, Ryan emerged weak and in critical condition, but with a new lease on life.
A long recovery process awaited. In the ensuing weeks, Ryan lost 12 pounds. He couldn't take any nutrition until his digestive system had fully recovered. But the Yale New Haven team remained positive and supportive. Dr. Sukru Emre, chief surgeon, assured Connie of Ryan's recovery.
Mild rejection also meant an emergency biopsy. An off-duty nurse came in just to help the family through the process. As Connie recalls it, "She was literally in her car driving when they contacted her and said, 'We've got a biopsy patient in recovery, you need to come and manage this case.' It was awesome."
From then on, Ryan's future began looking far more positive. Finally, on November 19, he was cleared to be released for good. He would be home in time to celebrate Thanksgiving.