Infant Has 'Bloodless' Surgery

LOS ANGELES, USA - A 7-month-old Iowa boy received part of his grandmother's liver in a surgery performed without transfusions, which are prohibited by the family's religion, doctors said Wednesday.

Aiden Michael Rush, whose parents are Jehovah's Witnesses, received 20 percent of Vicky Rush's liver in a Feb. 7 ``bloodless'' surgery at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

The surgery is believed to be the first of its kind performed on an infant, but may become routine.

``We made special arrangements in this case because of this family's religious beliefs, but from now on, we'll do this on every child to reduce our use of blood products,'' said Dr. Yuri Genyk, a member of the surgery team.

Jehovah's Witnesses say the Bible prohibits them from accepting transfusions of whole blood or blood products. That prohibition has made church members prime candidates for ``bloodless'' liver transplant surgeries.

That history drew the Rush family to Los Angeles from their home in Tipton, Iowa, for the surgery.

``I had people tell me flat out I wouldn't find anybody who would do this surgery,'' said Heather Rush, 26, Aiden's mother. ``But I wasn't going to give up until I found someone to help us.''

Aiden was born with biliary atresia, a condition where the bile duct is obstructed. Earlier, he underwent surgery to connect his bile duct inside the liver to his intestine, but then developed end-stage liver disease. Without a transplant, he would have died.

Surgeons at USC University Hospital first removed a portion of Vicky Rush's liver, which should grow back in as little as six to eight weeks.

``You go through the pain of it, but you're looking forward to the results,'' said Vicky Rush, 45.

Doctors then rushed the grandmother's liver to Childrens Hospital, where it was implanted in Aiden during six hours of surgery.

To improve Aiden's chance of surviving the surgery, doctors performed several blood-saving techniques to avoid requiring transfusions, including giving the infant drugs to stimulate the production of red blood cells.

During the surgery, blood suctioned from the incision surgeons made in the young patient was recycled back into his body, a practice that is in line with Witness precepts. Normally, pediatric liver transplants require two to three units of transfused blood.

In the two weeks since Aiden's surgery, the blue-eyed boy's distended stomach has returned to normal size and the bronze-yellowish cast of his skin has begun to disappear, Heather Rush said.

``Now he's just like a normal baby: he smiles, he plays with toys. It's the first time I have ever heard him laugh out loud,'' she said. ``He tried to be happy, but I think he was in pain before.''

Elsewhere, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that people who reject blood transfusions on religious grounds can't be forced to have the treatment even if it would save their lives.

It ruled in the case of Maria Duran, 34, a Jehovah's Witness who died in 1999 after two failed liver transplants. The court said a lower court was wrong to appoint her husband as emergency guardian for the limited purpose of approving a blood transfusion.

``It is a difficult thing to decline potentially lifesaving treatment for a loved one, rendered mute by her condition, on the basis of her devotion to religious beliefs,'' the ruling said. ``Nevertheless, absent evidence of overarching state interests, the patient's clear and unequivocal wishes should generally be respected.''

The case has been filed by a health guardian who had been appointed by Duran with the sole duty of preventing a blood transfusion in case she became incapacitated.

Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.