New Idea

Saved by a STRANGER



Sunny Jones loves nothing more than playing soccer and lacrosse with her identical twin sister Vivian. But life wasn’t always so sunny for the 9-year-old.

At just 10 weeks old, Sunny was diagnosed with biliary atresia. The rare inflammato­ry condition causes the bile ducts to become blocked and the liver to stop functionin­g. Parents Trent and Minako were told their little girl may not live past the age of two if she didn’t receive a donor organ.

“Sunny and Vivian are identical, and at first we thought they had different personalit­ies,” Trent tells New Idea from their Melbourne home.

“Sunny was unsettled and had less of an appetite from the word go.”

Doctors performed an operation, but when that failed, the Jones’ were told she’d need a liver transplant.

“I think I was in denial,” says Trent. “Minako was extremely anxious. We knew it was a waiting game.”

As two years passed, the difference­s between the twins became more pronounced. While Vivian grew into a healthy toddler, Sunny became weaker.

“You’d never have known they were identical twins,” says Trent.

The call the family had been waiting for came around Christmas in 2015. The hospital had a liver for Sunny. However, when they arrived, the transplant was unableto go ahead, and Sunny was put back on a waiting list. It wasn’t until January 2016 that the Jones’ got another call – this time the operation had been given the green light.

Sunny received part of an adult liver in a transplant operation that took 13 hours.

“It was an emotional rollercoas­ter,”

‘Someone has given us the greatest gift ’

says Trent. “Vivian kept asking where her sister was. It was a long wait.”

At first, the operation appeared to be a success. But part of the liver hadn’t taken properly, and soon Sunny’s health began to deteriorat­e. “The clock was ticking, big time,” says Trent. “I started to wonder if I could donate part of my own liver, but they prefer not to use live donors unless absolutely necessary.”

In early March 2016, the Jones’ were told there was another donor for Sunny.

“It was even more nerveracki­ng the second time around,” says Trent. “We knew things were out of our control.”

Sunny came out of her second 13-hour operation well and started to make good progress. The little fighter got home just before her third birthday, and

quickly went from strength to strength.

“It was clear from early on that things were working well,” says Trent. “She started to put on weight, came off nearly all of her medication, and started to run around. It was amazing to see it happen so fast.”

Sunny’s donor remained anonymous, but Trent and Minako were able to write a letter to the family.

“It was pretty hard to put into words what we wanted to say,” says Trent. “Anything you write feels inadequate. Of course, someone has given us the greatest gift possible. I hope their family feels very proud of them.”

Trent is no stranger to the roller-coaster of emotions that come with an organ transplant. As a child, his dad received a lung transplant, which extended his life by several years.

“Dad had emphysema for most of my childhood,” says Trent. “When he first woke up after his lung transplant, he said to me ‘that’s the first time in 15 years I’ve been able to take a normal breath.’ The change in him was immediate – and it was exactly the same with Sunny.”

Sunny will remain on immunosupp­ressant drugs for the rest of her life, and needs regular check-ups, but today she’s able to live a full, normal life.

“I’m happy I can run around and play sport,” says Sunny. “If I could say anything to the person who gave me their liver,

I’d say ‘thank you.’”

By Katherine Chatfield

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 ?? ?? Twins Vivian and Sunny (battling jaundice, left) had very different starts to life.
Twins Vivian and Sunny (battling jaundice, left) had very different starts to life.
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 ?? ?? Sunny is now a happy and healthy little girl thanks to
her donor.
Sunny is now a happy and healthy little girl thanks to her donor.

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