A 7-month-old boy’s new liver brings pediatric liver transplants back to San Antonio

With the return of transplant surgeon Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, children needing new livers will no longer have to travel to Houston or Dallas

When he was born, little Hector Acosta’s skin appeared a bit yellow to his mother’s eyes. Over the next few weeks, his discoloration worsened and his belly became swollen.

The family was referred to an El Paso clinic operated by San Antonio’s University Transplant Center, a partnership between University Health System and The University of Texas Health Science Center.

The timing was fortunate.  In recent years, children in San Antonio — and South and West Texas —needing a liver transplant have had to travel to Houston or Dallas, the only programs in Texas offering the surgery. But with the return of pediatric transplant surgeon Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, who had recently returned to full-time surgery after a six-year stint as chancellor of the University of Texas System, that was about to change. Dr. Cigarroa and his colleagues had been working for months to resume offering pediatric liver transplants.

On Aug. 26, Dr. Cigarroa and colleagues performed a split-liver transplant at University Hospital, dividing an adult donor liver and giving the smaller lateral segment to Hector and the right hepatic lobe to an adult patient, along with a kidney. Livers are uniquely able to regenerate, and the two segments will grow to become right-sized. Dr. Glenn Halff, director of the University Transplant Center and professor of surgery at the UT Health Science Center, and Dr. Gregory Abrahamian, director of renal transplantation and associate professor of surgery, performed the transplant on the adult patient. Dr. Kenneth Washburn, surgical director of the adult liver transplant program and professor of surgery, assisted Dr. Cigarroa in Hector’s transplant.

Hector and his family will be returning to El Paso soon.

He’s doing exceedingly well,” said Dr. Cigarroa, Ashbel Smith Professor of Surgery and Carlos and Malú Alvarez University Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Transplantation Surgery at the UT Health Science Center. “Hector’s successful liver transplant demonstrates that University Hospital has great depth of talent among many disciplines, coming together for the common good of the patient.”

Dr. Cigarroa said two years of preparation went into launching the pediatric liver transplant program, from stringent regulatory approval, to putting together a high-functioning team of doctors, nurses, transplant coordinators, pharmacy and laboratory personnel.

University Hospital has a very busy pediatric kidney transplant program with among the best patient outcomes in the nation. “Our aim is now to establish a national center of excellence for pediatric liver transplants,” Dr. Cigarroa said.

Dr. Cigarroa created the first pediatric liver transplant program here after joining the UT Health Science Center faculty in 1995. His first case was a complex kidney-liver transplant on a 6-year-old boy suffering from a rare condition. He became president of the UT Health Science Center in 2000, continuing to perform transplants.

Dr. Cigarroa said he anticipates gearing up quickly, perhaps performing 10 to 20 pediatric liver transplants a year. “We should be the center of choice for patients from El Paso, all along the Texas-Mexico border down to Brownsville — and even in Central Texas, because of our proximity.”

University Health System is a nationally recognized teaching hospital and comprehensive network of outpatient healthcare centers, owned by the people of Bexar County, and ranked best in the San Antonio region by U.S. News & World Report. University Health System is committed to delivering patient-centered, culturally competent and high-quality healthcare for adults and children, based on a strong foundation of outcomes‐based research and innovative teaching. Learn more at UniversityHealthSystem.com.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 13 percent of academic institutions receiving National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding. The university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced more than 31,000 graduates. The $801.8 million operating budget supports six campuses in San Antonio and Laredo. For more information on the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.

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