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Transplant Saves Girl's Life

Two year old undergoes successful pediatric liver transplant; youngest ever in region.

Less than two weeks after undergoing pediatric liver transplant surgery, a young Reston girl is ready to return home from the hospital for the first time since November.

Iqra Wazeer made history last month when the two-year-old girl became the youngest person ever in the Washington-metro area to successfully receive a liver transplant.

On Jan. 28, Dr. James Piper, the director of liver transplantation at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children, led a team of two doctors and three nurses in a three-and-a-half-hour operation that brought the Reston girl a new liver.

Barely two weeks after the operation, Iqra was scheduled to return to her Reston home on Wed., Feb. 12. Admitted to the children’s hospital in November, Iqra had been on a liver transplant waiting list at Inova and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for nearly a year before a suitable donor was found late last month. No one in Iqra’s family matched her liver, so the two-year-old needed to be placed on a donor list. According to Piper, the donated liver came from a deceased five-year-old boy. “All I can say is that it wasn’t nearby,” the doctor said, protecting the privacy of the donor’s family. “We had to fly the liver into Washington.”

“When I heard the news about the donor, I didn’t believe it, at first,” the patient’s father, Muhammed Wazeer, said. “We are so thankful for this.”

“We are very happy to take her back home,” said Parveen Wazeer, Iqra’s mother.

Parveen Wazeer is especially excited to bring her daughter home, because for as many days as Iqra has been in the hospital, her mom has been right there by her bedside. “It will be nice,” the soft-spoken mother of five said. “Yes, of course it will be good for all of us.”

“My wife has been here, all the time with Iqra,” Muhammed said. “It has not been easy for us.”

When his daughter emerged from the surgery, Muhammad Wazeer said he cried. He was so grateful for his daughter’s health and the support he received from the Falls Church hospital. “All the doctors here have been so good. I am so thankful to everyone,” he said.

A practicing Muslim, Muhammad Wazeer, who drives a taxi cab in Washington, D.C., says his strong religious faith kept his, and his family’s, spirits up during the course of his daughter’s medical ordeals. “Of course, we never experienced things like this before, but if you have God, there is always some kind of hope,” he said, holding his daughter tightly. “Life is in the hand of God. I just pray and pray. It was out of our hands.”

Iqra and her mother had plenty of family ready to help. With three aunts and four siblings in the area, Parveen Wazeer always had an extra hand or two to help with the daily task of caring for young Iqra.

Wazeer was quick with advice for parents going through similar ordeals. “Pray,” he said, looking up. “And tell them to go to Fairfax Inova.”

<b>BEFORE SHE WAS EVEN</b> three months old, the toddler was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a congenital disease of the liver. Biliary atresia, according to Piper, occurs when the bile ducts in the liver fail to fully develop before birth. The ducts allow bile to flow from the liver to the intestines where it is then used to absorb fat into the bloodstream.

Because of her condition, Iqra’s liver was unable to absorb food nutrients and she was fed intravenously during the course of her stay. A transplant was the family’s only hope, the surgeon said.

“Today, her condition is fantastic,” Piper said. “Everything went smoothly and she is right where I would like her to be. She is well on her way and we are so happy about that because she is just such a great little girl.”

Less than a week after the surgery, Iqra still showed signs of the disease that has consumed her since birth, but her spirits were up, her parents said. Her jaundiced skin and swollen stomach were looking much better than they did before the operation, Piper said.

“Without the transplant, she would have gotten increasingly sick,” Piper said. “Statistics say that, without a new liver, she would have had a 60 percent chance of death. She was getting progressively more ill.”

Now out of the hospital, Iqra’s parents will be responsible for making sure their youngest child take’s her anti-rejection drugs every day for the rest of her life. More than half of all children under the age of three who suffer from liver disease die without a transplant, The surgeon said. “The bottom-line is that two years from now, Iqra will have a better than 90 percent chance of having a pretty normal life expectancy,” Piper said.

<b>BECAUSE OF THE DISEASE</b>, Iqra’s development has been slowed, Piper said. “The developmental problems will eventually go away and she will catch up with her peers,” he said. “Within one year, she should be age appropriate, both size-wise and developmentally.”

While it was the hospital’s first pediatric liver transplant at its Center for Liver Diseases, it was not the doctor’s first such operation, a spokesman for the hospital said. Before joining the staff in Inova in 2001, Piper, considered a pioneer in the pediatric liver transplantation world, performed more than 200 similar surgeries while leading the department at the University of Chicago.

The operation, which typically takes about four to five hours, was the second operation for the curly-brown-haired and brown-eyed Iqra. Before her six-month birthday, Iqra underwent an unsuccessful surgery that moved her failed organ from one side of her body to the other, her dad said. Before arriving at Inova, Iqra was shuttled between doctors, nurses at Georgetown University Hospital and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. “The key to making an impact on the health of children with liver disease is to transplant them early before their disease progresses,” Piper said. “Now, Washington, D.C. area residents who previously had to travel out of state can have this life-saving procedure close to home.”