‘We’re so thankful’: Baby receives life-saving liver transplant amidst pandemic

MADISON, Wis. – Hospital workers have been pouring themselves into the fight against COVID-19, but they’re still busy saving the lives of patients who have other needs, as well.

After a month’s stay at the American Family Children’s Hospital, Sarah and Christian Schartner are getting used to a new normal like the rest of us. But instead of the pandemic, their focus is on their baby boy.

“We’ve kind of put all that on the back burner, as you can imagine,” Christian Schartner said.

Their son was born in February, and after taking him home, his parents began to notice issues including a change in skin color. They eventually learned he would need a liver transplant to survive.

“It’s one of those things, you almost become numb,” Sarah Schartner said.

“He’s a really happy kid,” Christian Schartner said. “He barely cries.”

Calvin’s mother said even in the midst of acute liver failure, he was “still just this sweet, smiling boy.”

His parents wanted to donate part of their livers, but they were too tall, meaning their livers would be too large. The donor needed to meet certain height and weight requirements, so the Schartners put out a call to the community, and ended up with more than 200 living donor applicants.

“It just blew our minds, because not only are they willing to go under the knife to donate part of their liver to our son, they’re willing to do that during the time of a pandemic where hospitals can be a scary thing for some people,” Sarah Schartner said.

On April 27, a new liver for Calvin came another way.

“He didn’t have much time left with (his) liver,” his mother said. “We hate the way it had to come to be for him to receive it, because someone else lost their child to have this shot at life, but at the same time, we’re so thankful.”

The pandemic has changed things at the hospital. Sarah Schartner said there are more virtual visits from health professionals, and she and her husband are careful to not go in public to keep the risk of contracting the virus at bay.

Even so, she doesn’t feel like the pandemic is drawing staff members’ attention away from her son.

“They’ve taken such good care of using extra precautions around our son and making sure rooms are really clean and checking in with every person in the hospital every day for temperatures and any symptoms,” she said. “I’ve felt like things have been really, really taken care of and people use such good caution.”

Calvin is on his way to recovery, but will need special medical attention and medications his whole life, according to his parents.

“We have a child that had a liver transplant and that’s going to shape the rest of our lives from here on out. It already has,” Sarah Schartner said. “We’re going to be liver experts by the time we’re old and gray.”

It’s not the life this family pictured, but it’s one they’re happy to adjust to – a lesson all of us can carry forward.”

“There is hope in this situation,” Christian Schartner said.

Calvin’s parents hope others will consider living donation and keep organ donation in general in mind, as well. More information can be found on UW-Health’s website here.