Liver Transplant: Gable's Story
Twenty-two-year-old Gable Dull is a busy young man. A recent graduate of the University of Central Missouri, he’s now studying law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, commuting every day from his home in Lowry City, Mo.
Plus, he married his high school sweetheart, Ally, last year. They love spending time with their lab puppy, and have a passion for the outdoors.
“Gable is the perfect example of what the Pediatric Liver Transplant Program at Children’s Mercy Kansas City is all about,” said James “Jack” Daniel, MD, FAASLD, James F. Daniel Endowed Chair in Liver Care Center. “He’s living an active, productive life.”
But a little more than nine years ago, Gable’s future wasn’t so certain.
“I grew up on our family farm and I have two brothers, one older and one younger, so we wrestled and roughhoused a lot,” he said. “Plus, I played baseball, basketball and football, and we hunted and fished some. But the summer before I started eighth grade, I just wasn’t feeling well.”
Gable recalls not having any energy, being bloated and having frequent nose bleeds, sometimes several a day. Then one weekend he went golfing with his dad.
“I remember being on the course and feeling like I was going to die. Internally, I was in immense pain. I felt like my internal organs weren’t working,” he said.
As soon as he returned home, Gable saw his primary care physician who performed some preliminary testing, and referred him to the Liver Care Center at Children’s Mercy.
A bump in the road
“I remember the first day I went to Children’s Mercy, Dr. Daniel told us I had end-stage liver disease and that I might need a liver transplant, but I didn’t feel that sick,” Gable said.
“I knew the situation was really serious, but I always felt that everything was going to be alright, and I had faith this would be a small bump in the road,” he said.
But Gable’s diagnosis turned out to be a pretty big bump in the road. Testing revealed he had Wilson’s disease, a rare inherited condition that affects approximately one in 30,000 individuals. It causes excessive amounts of copper to accumulate in the body, particularly in the liver, brain and eyes.
Though Gable’s parents didn’t have Wilson’s disease, they each had one copy of the mutated gene which causes it, and passed both copies along to their son. The signs and symptoms of the condition usually begin during the teenage years. Gable was 13.
“As a pediatric specialty hospital, we have seen many cases of Wilson’s disease, but usually, we catch it before it reaches such an advanced stage,” Dr. Daniel said.
“Gable was such a strong kid, he probably brushed the symptoms off until they became so severe he could no longer ignore them.” Gable said that was exactly what happened.
“We chalked my symptoms up to puberty. We had no idea I was so sick.”
Unfortunately, only a couple of weeks after Gable’s first visit to Children’s Mercy, he was back, and sicker than ever.
“Over the course of a couple of weeks, Gable’s condition declined rapidly. We thought he would die if we didn’t get him a new liver immediately,” Dr. Daniel said.
New liver, new life
With Gable in liver failure, he was designated priority status and placed on the waiting list for a new organ Sept. 28, 2010. Just two days later, he was on the way to the operating room at Children’s Mercy to get his new liver, and begin his new life.
Walter Andrews, MD, FAAP, FACS, and Richard J. Hendrickson, MD, FAAP, FACS, transplant surgeons, performed the lifesaving operation for Gable.
All went smoothly with his surgery and recovery. Eight short days later, he was out of the hospital, spending the remainder of his recovery at nearby Ronald McDonald House.
“A couple of days after we released him from the hospital, I remember Gable texted us a photo of himself shooting hoops at Ronald McDonald House,” Dr. Daniel said. “We couldn’t believe it.”
And Gable has been defying the odds ever since.
Only three weeks after receiving his transplant, he was back home in Lowry City, making occasional trips to Children’s Mercy for check-ups, but continuing with his usual routine.
Over the years, Gable saw less and less of Dr. Daniel and the Children’s Mercy Liver Care team.
“The team continued to monitor me for signs of rejection and my overall health,” Gable said. “Except for a blocked bile duct my senior year in high school, I haven’t had any issues with my new liver.”
Today, Gable and Ally live half a mile from the farm where he grew up, and he’s learned to take life one day at a time.
“I have never let this keep me from doing what I wanted. Most days I forget about all of it. But I am really thankful for the fact that organ donation is possible, for the sacrifice my donor family made, and for the wonderful care I received at Children’s Mercy,” he said.
Though Gable transitioned to adult care at the University of Kansas Medical Center a few years ago, he says he really misses his Children’s Mercy team.
“They were the absolute best,” Gable added. “They were knowledgeable, kind and friendly. I can’t imagine a care provider doing any better. I honestly miss them.”
And they miss him, too.
“That’s the bittersweet thing about being in pediatric care,” Dr. Daniel admitted. “Our patients grow up and move on, but that’s what they’re supposed to do. Gable is a testament to what happens when you put together a great team of professionals who provide best-in-class care.
“We’re trying to give kids a chance to live the rest of their lives successfully. If everything goes as planned, they can do wonderfully, just like Gable.”
Liver transplant: Precious' story
At Children's Mercy, every child is precious. But in this story, you'll meet a young girl with chronic liver disease whose nickname really is "Precious." Watch as the physician who has taken care of her since the day she was born performs her intricate liver transplant.
James F. Daniel Endowed Chair in Liver Care; Professor of Pediatrics, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine; Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Kansas School of Medicine