Baby girl turned yellow at just four weeks old before gran gave her gift of life


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Phoebe Elliston needed a liver transplant at just four-weeks-old but her body rejected a deceased donor’s organ – so her loving grandmother selflessly stepped in

Phoebe Elliston with grandma Debbie
Phoebe Elliston with grandma Debbie

Little Phoebe Elliston beams as she celebrates her first birthday on Christmas Day…and the gift of life from her gran.

At just four weeks old, Phoebe turned completely yellow and doctors decided she needed a liver transplant.

But when her body rejected a deceased donor’s organ Debbie Souter-Matthews, 56, stepped in.

Phoebe’s mum Lauren Elliston, 31, couldn’t be more thankful for Debbie’s decision to donate 20% of her liver.

“What my mum has done really hasn’t sunk in for any of us, because she literally saved Phoebe’s life,” Lauren said.

The 31-year-old pub worker from Wigan, Lancs, added: “They will always share this special bond. When I look at pictures of my mum and Phoebe, it’s quite surreal as I’m like, ‘this is two people sharing one liver’.

“Before her transplant, Phoebe was so miserable – I never heard her laugh and she only smiled on rare occasions. Now she’s completely different and so happy.”


With mum Lauren
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When Lauren noticed something was wrong with newborn Phoebe, she was refered first to her local A&E, then to hospital in Leeds where she was diagnosed with biliary atresia. This occurs when there is a blockage in tubes carrying bile from the liver to the gallbladder, caused by the bile ducts not developing normally.

Phoebe needed an immediate operation to remove her gallbladder and bile ducts – but Lauren was told that even after this kind of major surgery two thirds of people with biliary atresia still need a liver transplant at some point.

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Phoebe loved Christmas
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Gran Debbie gave the gift of life
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“Everything was fine for the first few months,” says Lauren. “But in the summer, Phoebe’s belly massively swelled due to a complication of her condition, and doctors told me she’d probably need a transplant before the age of two – but we still thought we had a bit of time. In August, she got a liver infection and we were told she needed to be on the list for a transplant.”

A deceased donor was found in October, but while the surgery went well, after a few days she became ill as her body rejected the organ.


In memory of her donor
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Phoebe’s kidneys also shut down, and she ended up on dialysis.

But there was hope, as Debbie had been told she could be a living donor. She had even prepared for surgery three times before the donor was found. Days after Phoebe’s body rejected the donor’s organ Phoebe had a successful transplant from Debbie.

“My mum has said it feels like it was meant to be that she gave some of her liver to Phoebe,” says Lauren.

Phoebe is now free to enjoy life
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“They both went into theatre at the same time. That was a scary day especially as Phoebe was so poorly. But Phoebe likes mum’s liver and within a couple of days it kicked in and everything was working.

“She spent four weeks in intensive care and had to relearn everything such as how to sit up and lift her head up as she had lost all of her muscle strength.”

Early this month, Phoebe and Debbie were both discharged from hospital and are recovering well at home, with Debbie’s liver slowly growing back.

Although Lauren had planned for Phoebe to spend her birthday with Debbie, due to the rise in Covid cases as well as Phoebe’s need to shield, the pair spent Christmas Day at home.

Lauren adds: “We had a birthday cake and balloons, and sang happy birthday – but with Phoebe’s birthday being Christmas Day I always said we would also have her half birthday on 25 June where we can celebrate properly with mum when we aren’t shielding.”

Lauren and Debbie hope to take Phoebe to the British Transplant Games and the European Transplant and Dialysis Games both being held in the UK next summer.

These events will allow Lauren to meet other families whose children have had organ transplants.

She said: “They’ve been a huge support to us over social media. Having people there who have been through a similar experience has been really helpful.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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