5-month-old with rare illness needs liver transplant

Biliary atresia is an illness that blocks bile ducts in the liver. It only happens to about one in 15,000 babies in the U.S. (KCRA, FAMILY PHOTO via CNN)
Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 2:40 AM CDT
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VACAVILLE, Calif. (KCRA) - A California mother wants to warn others about an uncommon, yet serious illness that she says her son’s doctors dismissed as jaundice. The infant is now facing a liver transplant.

Lynda Witzelberger’s life changed when her son Ashton was born in late December.

“I don’t even remember who I was before. It’s crazy,” she said. “It is a roller coaster, an absolute roller coaster.”

But problems started right after Ashton’s birth when he had jaundice, a common condition in newborns. While that went away within a week, Witzelberger says her son kept turning yellow, especially his eyes, over the next couple of months.

Meanwhile, the mom felt as if her concerns were getting dismissed by her son’s doctors at Kaiser Permanente.

“They just kept telling us, ‘It’ll keep going down. Just don’t worry about it. It’s pretty normal,’” she said. “But then, once it started getting worse, we were like, ‘All right, this is getting ridiculous.’”

At Ashton’s 4-month checkup, tests were ordered. Doctors learned his liver was failing because of an illness called biliary atresia that blocks bile ducts in the liver of infants. It only happens to about one in 15,000 babies in the U.S.

“It’s hard. It’s not easy to process. It’s your first child, and you think you did everything right during your pregnancy. Then, you’re told this information, and you start questioning: ‘Oh, what did I do wrong?’” Witzelberger said.

Ashton, now 5 months, needs a liver transplant. His parents are hoping he will soon have a donor.

A fundraising page has been set up to help the family with the cost of the transplant.

“I just want to make sure parents know to take it seriously because just because the doctor tells you it is common, it doesn’t mean it is safe,” Witzelberger said.

A Kaiser spokeswoman said the company’s heart goes out to Ashton and his family, who’s dealing with this rare medical condition. Because of patient privacy laws, the company said it cannot provide information about an individual case.

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