A SCHOOLBOY who needed life-saving surgery to give him a new liver twice in the space of just a few months is gearing up to take part in his fifth consecutive British Transplant Games.
William Newton was less than a month old when he was diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening condition called biliary atresia. The illness meant his bile ducts were blocked, which in turn caused his liver to become badly scarred and damaged.
Parents Tracy and Philip, from Dronfield, were devastated when they were told he might need a transplant.
Tracy, aged 45, said: “When William was diagnosed, we were told that the worst case scenario was that he would need a liver transplant.
“We never imagined that he would have to go through it twice.”
The first sign that something was wrong was when tests at Sheffield Children’s Hosital revealed William, now aged nine, had jaundice. He was transferred to Leeds Children’s Hospital for surgery to repair his bile duct.
But because his liver was so scarred, the operation was unsuccessful. William’s condition deteriorated, and his family - which includes big sister Megan, 11 - was eventually told he would need a transplant. He underwent the operation a month later.
William was kept in intensive care for three weeks and put on dialysis to keep his kidneys functioning.
But he contracted infections and it soon became clear he wasn’t recovering.
Almost three months later Tracy and Philip, 42, were told William had experienced chronic rejection, which meant his body had not accepted the new liver. He was put back on the organ donor register for a second transplant.
Tracy said: “Chronic rejection normally happens very quickly, but William’s body kept fighting for a lot longer. Unfortunately there was nothing any of us could do and we were back to square one, which was heartbreaking.”
After just four days of being back on the register, William underwent a second transplant.
Tracy said: “William recovered so much quicker the second time around and we knew almost straightaway that the operation had been successful. It was such a relief, but obviously we knew that he still had a long way to go.”
More ups and downs followed as William continued to battle infections because of his low immune system, and he still had to be fed through a tube in his nose because he couldn’t digest food properly.
Although today he suffers from low concentration levels and low muscle tone - meaning he has to limit the amount of physical activity he does - the Dronfield Junior School pupil has made a steady recovery over the years.
He took part in the British Transplant Games for the first time in Edinburgh in 2007 and has competed on the Leeds Children’s Team ever since. This year, he will be joining hundreds of other transplant patients at the four-day event - which begins today in Belfast.
He will take part in the badminton and table tennis events. At last year’s Games in Bath, William won gold in badminton and bronze in table tennis, and the previous year in Coventry he also scooped a gold medal in badminton.
This year, the local community in Dronfield has raised more than £2,000 to help the team get to this year’s games. The local parish church, the Dronfield Relief Fund and a number of local businesses have all donated.
Tracy said: “It is fantastic to see William with other people, particularly children, who have been through transplants as it makes him feel like everyone else. He really thrives at the event and, without the Transplant Games, William wouldn’t have had the chance to get involved in sport on this scale. We are so proud to watch him compete.’’
It is estimated that 28 per cent of the UK population are on the organ donor register. However, in South Yorkshire, just 24 per cent of people have signed up.
Tracy added: “It’s great that the event raises awareness of the importance of joining the donor register. We are so lucky that William is still here with us and that he is able to lead a full and happy life thanks to the generosity of a family that sadly wasn’t so lucky.”
n Visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk to join the register.