When baby Sloan first came into the world, she was a healthy baby and there were no discernible complications. The young parents, Sarah and Chris St. James of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, were able to go home with their baby shortly after and thought all would be well.
But about three months in, something was wrong.
Sloan’s belly kept getting bigger, and it didn’t seem normal, so they took Sloan in for a checkup.
“Chris and I were like, ‘Something is just not right,'” Sarah told the Sentinel Source.
The doctor did not have good news.
“The doctor took one look at her and told us, ‘Take her to the hospital,'” Sarah said.
The parents took Sloan to the hospital, and discovered that she had a liver disease called biliary atresia—a rare disease that affects 1 in 18,000 babies.
Sloan was only a few months old, and usually if this disease is caught early on, there are procedures that can take place before the patient really needs some sort of transplant. But her condition was already a ways along, and Sloan needed a transplant quickly.
The sudden diagnosis was a shock to the family.
“Here we are thinking we’re bringing her in for peace of mind, and instead it was devastating,” Sarah said. “Your mind blocks out that it could be this, this and this. Instead, it was this, this and this—everything we dreaded came true.”
The situation became even direr as neither of her parents was a suitable donor, because she had type O blood and neither of the parents did. Sloan was “deteriorating rapidly,” and needed a living donor, fast.
But as one of their friends shared their story on social media, the story got out.
The brother-in-law of a family friend had type-O blood, and volunteered to donate part of his liver to this baby he had never met. This man had only ever even met the parents in passing.
Steve Tenney, a U.S. Army veteran and 18-year member of the Keene Police Department, was in perfect health. He had scarcely needed to see a doctor and had never spent the night in the hospital. At age 40, he had never had a serious illness.
So he went in for numerous tests—including a CT scan, about a hundred blood tests, an MRI, and a liver biopsy—and was declared a good match.
“Fortunately, here, I was in a good position,” Tenney told the Sentinel Source. “My wife and I talked and it was really a no-brainer—if you can help a 4-month-old and potentially save her life, it’s something you’re going to do.”
The complicated tests and procedures would have put anyone in an anxious position, and Tenney was no different. He went home after the first day about to have second thoughts, wondering what exactly it was he was doing. But he went through with it.
Several days later, the surgery teams assembled and replaced Sloan’s shriveled and black liver with a healthy new liver pieced from Tenney, which will grow as Sloan grows.
Recovery took months, but Sloan after the surgery was a happy baby.
“Sloan never stopped smiling,” Sarah said. “The doctors say she’ll be able to do anything that a normal little girl would do.”
Tenney’s liver will regenerate as well.
“I woke up that afternoon and felt like a truck had run over me,” he said after the surgery. But he said he wouldn’t have changed a thing.
“Having been through it, it’s something I would tell people to do if they’re in that position. I have no regrets. For what you give, it’s a very rewarding process in what you get back,” he said.
And for that, the St. Jameses are endlessly thankful.
“He reached out right when this all started,” Sarah said.