UHealth surgeons at Holtz Children’s Hospital are first in the world to use this innovative technology for transplantation, which magnifies images 26 times leading to better outcomes for high-risk patients.
Michael David Antonio Angelo was born healthy in September 2018. During his first two months of checkups with his pediatrician, he was given a clean bill of health. But soon after, his mother started noticing her baby boy’s skin had a yellow tone, also known as jaundice. She immediately took her son to the doctor, who ordered blood work.
Test results revealed the baby’s bilirubin levels were high, so Jill and her husband, David Angelo, took Michael to an emergency room near their home in St. Petersburg.
Soon after, doctors gave the family the devastating news that their baby boy had biliary atresia, a rare, genetic, life-threatening liver disease that only appears in infants.
Most babies have symptoms between the first two weeks and first two months of life, but because Michael was diagnosed later, he was no longer a candidate for the Kasai procedure – an operation to re-establish bile flow from the liver into the intestine. His only chance at survival was a liver transplant.
“Our lives from then on flipped upside down,” said Jill Angelo. “I had to drop my job and leave our five-year-old daughter with my mother. There were a lot of unknowns, it was terrible.”
Although Michael lived in St. Petersburg, Fla., his parents decided the best place to help their son was the Miami Transplant Institute (MTI), a joint program between Jackson Health System and UHealth – the University of Miami Health System.
On January 14, Michael was airlifted from St. Petersburg to Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, where he began his care with the MTI team.
“All I kept thinking was that my four-month-old son was on a helicopter that we had to follow by car,” said Angelo. “It was a living nightmare that is best explained as having an out-of-body experience.”
The parents first met with Jennifer Garcia, MD, UHealth medical director of pediatric transplant services at MTI, who eased their worries by explaining the team’s expertise in treating this rare disease, their success rates, and how the team was going to do everything in their power to help them.
“We didn’t feel alone even as we knew nothing about transplant,” said Angelo. “It felt great to have a team on our side that made us feel like we were not alone.”
Michael was placed on the national transplant list in February and in two weeks, his parents received a call that a compatible liver was available. The only challenge was Michael’s weight: 8 pounds, 8 ounces.
In the past, the Miami Transplant Institute had only performed surgeries on babies weighing more than 13 pounds, two ounces. Operating on Michael was a risk.
But two innovative medical technologies used simultaneously would help them with this challenging case: the Thunderbeat (Hybrid Vessel Sealing Device) and ORBEYE (4K/3D Surgical Visualization) by Olympus. The Thunderbeat is the world’s only fully-integrated bipolar and ultrasonic technology. The ORBEYE, which provides image magnification up to 26 times with a 4k/3D 55-inch monitor, had never been used in transplantation; it is - typically used for neurosurgery. Surgeons must wear 3D goggles to view the screens allowing transplant surgeons to visualize precise instrument placement.
On February 28, Michael received his lifesaving liver transplant at Holtz Children’s, becoming the first organ transplant patient in the world to undergo this clinical trial, using this dual-technological approach.
The successful surgery was done by a multidisciplinary team, led by UHealth transplant surgeon Rodrigo Vianna, MD, director, Miami Transplant Institute and chief of liver, intestinal, and multivisceral transplant; Akin Tekin, MD, UHealth’s liver, intestinal and multivisceral surgeon; Thiago Beduschi, MD, UHealth surgical director, living donor liver program; and Gennaro Selvaggi, MD, FACS, UHealth transplant surgeon.
“Jackson miracles happen daily so I was hopeful that my son was part of it,” said his mother, Jill Angelo. “I came to learn about the technology used after, and it’s incredible what this medical team was able to accomplish to save my baby’s life.”
Michael remained in the pediatric intensive care unit for some time postoperatively, and was recently discharged, but continues to be monitored during weekly checkups. Michael is now a healthy 9-month-old baby, and will soon be returning home to St. Petersburg for the first time since January.
“He got his second chance at life because of the team that I met of doctors, residents, fellows, surgeons, nurses - everyone had a place in my son’s journey,” his mother said. “He’s complete happiness – I love this boy so much. I am in awe of such a little child who is resilient and smiley.”
The family is now home, in time to celebrate Father’s Day.
“Please register and give the gift of life,” said the baby’s mother. “You can save eight lives just for being a registered donor.”