Mum’s moving gesture to family that saved transplant tot’s life in time for Christmas

A year ago Ellie Cowan was waiting for a liver transplant and her parents feared the worst until a donor came to the rescue

Brave little Ellie Cowan at home

Little Ellie Cowan’s ­delighted parents are spending their first Christmas at home with her – a day they once thought they’d never see.

A year ago they were waiting for a liver transplant to save Ellie as her life ebbed away.

Mum Ashleigh and dad David knew only too well what it would mean for another family if that happened.

So last week, in a touching tribute, they wrote a thank-you letter to the donor’s parents for a Christmas gift like no other.

David, 32, said: “Last year was a great Christmas for us because Ellie’s life was saved.

“But for another family there would have been sadness. That family will for ever be in our thoughts for deciding to give our daughter the chance of life.”

Watching 22-month-old Ellie excitedly opening presents at home was a far cry from the hell the family endured last year.

Santa pays Ellie a visit in hospital


Ashleigh McConville)

The youngster had been in hospital since her birth in February 2020 and had undergone life-saving stomach surgery to remove half of her bowel within hours of being delivered.

Two months later, just as her parents thought she’d turned a corner and would be able to return to their Belfast home, they were left reeling as Ellie fell ill with severe jaundice.

Doctors were baffled so she was flown 300 miles to Birmingham Children’s Hospital for specialist care.

Soon after arrival, Ellie was diagnosed with life-threatening biliary atresia – where the bile duct becomes blocked, further damaging the liver.

Ellie with mum Ashleigh, dad David, and brother Harry


Ashleigh McConville)

Her parents were told she would need a liver transplant but would have to wait for it at home, under the care of the hospital in Belfast, as she was too small for surgery.

Ashleigh, 38, said: “They said she needed to be safe for a major operation but at the same time, she was getting sicker and more in need of the transplant.”

Ellie was finally placed on the transplant list in October. And after a further agonising two-month wait, the family got their best-ever Christmas present.

On December 22, Ashleigh got the call she had been dreaming of – and was told that Ellie’s transplant would take place later that day.

She said: “It was a massive relief. But then I had the anxiety of her having major surgery.”

Ellie was in desperate need of a transplant


Ashleigh McConville)

After more than eight hours in the operating theatre, Ellie was taken to intensive care to be reunited with her mum.

And astonishingly, just three days after the operation, she was well enough to receive a visit from Santa on the ward.

Engineer David said: “We will be for ever thankful to the hospital, the donor and his family for giving our baby a second chance at life.

“We now have many Christmases to look forward to as a family.”

Ellie came home for good last February and enjoyed a big celebration with her mum, dad and big brother Harry, nine.

Special needs teacher Ashleigh said: “It was tough being separated from David and Harry for so long. We are all making up for lost time together. Ellie is really enjoying her first Christmas at home.

“Harry was asking for a brother or sister and when Ellie came along, she spent most of her time in hospital so now he’s making up for lost time.”

Ellie with dad David and brother Harry


Ashleigh McConville)

In the run-up to the family’s first proper Christmas, the Cowans’ thoughts turned to the donor’s family.

Ashleigh said: “We wrote to them the other day to say thank you for what they did. We only know the donor was a 23-year-old man.

“They were able to divide and share his liver between Ellie and another person. We thought writing close to the anniversary might help his family at a time of sad memories. Some good has come out of someone else’s loss.

“We included some photos of Ellie and maybe one day, we will be able to meet them and thank them in person.”

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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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