After receiving a life-saving liver transplant at Seattle Children’s, 4-year-old Ruby Josephine Mwamba is thriving and living a dramatically different life than she was at this time last year.
Ruby was born with biliary atresia, a liver condition that occurs when a baby’s bile ducts do not form normally and are unable drain bile. Bile is the liquid that helps the body break down fats, from the liver. When it doesn’t drain, it can cause scarring of the liver and yellowing of the skin and eyes called jaundice.
Ruby’s parents Melissa and Gabriel Mwamba learned about Ruby’s disease shortly after she was born. At only a few months old, Ruby had surgery to try to correct her condition, but unfortunately the relief was short-lived.
Ruby was living with nearly constant pain and her hands were covered in tender bumps.
“Almost overnight, I came home after work and was like, ‘Are your eyes yellow?’” Melissa explained during an interview with KHQ in Spokane. “By June, she was listed for transplant.”
Some liver diseases can be treated, but when a child reaches end-stage liver disease or liver failure, a liver transplant is usually the only option. Ruby was placed on the transplant list and waited for a donor liver for more than 300 days, struggling with daily pain.
Then, on April 23, Melissa and Gabriel got a call from Seattle Children’s — the transplant team had a liver for Ruby. As the only pediatric Liver Transplant Program in the Pacific Northwest, and with some of the best outcomes in the nation, including a 100% one-year survival rate, the Mwamba family knew they were in good hands.
Senior Vice President and Surgeon-in-Chief, Dr. Andre Dick performed the surgery and provided care for Ruby before, during and after the liver transplant.
“Seattle Children’s made the process seamless,” Ruby’s dad Gabriel said. “They made us feel at peace.”
“They are so organized, and everyone is so caring! We felt like they supported us well and became extended family to us,” Melissa added.
Today, the yellow is gone from Ruby’s eyes and she is no longer in constant pain. Her parents say it was a miracle and the ultimate gift.
“She has so much more energy and she no longer has the xanthomas on her body, especially her hands that were causing her a lot of pain,” explained Melissa. “She isn’t sick anymore and we aren’t needing to go to the Emergency Room (ER) like we were before to always get her liver numbers checked.”
Ruby is also sleeping well again, has an increased appetite, and is steadily growing.
“She’s taller and has finally surpassed 30lbs! She’s even wearing clothing we bought a few years ago that she wasn’t able to fit into until now,” Melissa proudly added.
Ruby is now also able to focus less on pain, and more on being a kid. She loves to play at the park, hang out with her grandma, learn at home, and use her imagination with her friends. Melissa has also seen a big difference in Ruby’s personality and energy.
“The energy level is up, and she doesn’t cry as often anymore! She’s also so much more brave while visiting doctor offices,” she said. “Before transplant Ruby’s life consisted of so many hospital visits and questions about when she would feel better, but she’s able to now live life in less fear and more enjoyment because of a donor.”
Ruby recently celebrated her 4th birthday- a celebration that held an extra special meaning to her family.
“It signifies a milestone that some children with this disease are unable to make it to,” Melissa shared. “We are so fortunate and don’t take for granted the beautiful outcome we’ve had. Ruby always talks about getting bigger and with this gift of life, it means she gets to. Each birthday will be a celebration of life!”
“She’s thriving, back home and doing really well,” said Dr. Pamela Valentino, medical director of the Liver Transplant Program. “The parents were in Seattle for two months and are so committed and appreciative. Ruby is taking her medications like a champ. She’s just perfection.”
Melissa said their family’s perseverance comes from faith, trust and thanks.
“Take everything a day at a time. If you stress too much about something before it happens, you basically put yourself through it twice,” she said. “If you’re on the fence about becoming a donor, just know you are giving someone a second chance at life,” Melissa said to KHQ.
“Seattle Children’s did everything in their power to help us and Ruby’s successful outcome is largely in part to the care we received,” Melissa said. “We’re so thankful!”
There are nearly 110,000 children and adults on the national transplant waiting list. Seattle Children’s has been performing both deceased-donor and living-donor liver transplants for over three decades and is the only pediatric liver transplant program in the Pacific Northwest.
- Transplant Center – Seattle Children’s (seattlechildrens.org)
- Liver Transplant Program (seattlechildrens.org)
- Liver Organ Donation: Liver Transplant Center at Seattle Children’s (seattlechildrens.org)
- Living-Donor Liver Transplants: Liver Transplant Program (seattlechildrens.org)
- Biliary Atresia – Seattle Children’s (seattlechildrens.org)