Liver Transplant: Ali's Story

Transplant Services

Liver Transplant: Ali's Story

Pediatric Transplant

Learn about more of our younger transplant patients at uwhealthkids.org

Ali Wandschneider's mother Lori wrote the following about her daughter's liver transplant.

My daughter Ali is 13 years old but her liver is 56 years old. How could that be? Ali was born with the disease alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency. Ten years ago, Ali received a liver transplant from a 46-year-old woman.

In March 2001, at 15 months old, Ali had been referred to a pediatric liver specialist because of her "fat belly." After 18 tubes of bloods being drawn over a three-day period and sent to labs all over the country, I received the infamous phone call.

"Is this Ali's mom? This is Ali's liver specialist with the results from her blood tests. I have good news and bad news to share. The good news is we know what disease Ali is suffering from. The bad news is your baby could die."

Ali shows off her new haircut after donating to Locks of LifeHe continued to explain that at some time in her life she would need a liver transplant. It could be today, tomorrow or many years from now. There was no way of knowing when that need would arise. There wasn't much research being done, so the only hope we had was a transplant. All we could do was keep a watchful eye on her liver function tests monthly.

So the watching and waiting began. On Oct. 12, 2001, our world turned upside down. Ali started vomiting blood at home. We rushed her to the hospital via ambulance where she was admitted to the Peds ICU. She had emergency surgery and blood transfusions to stabilize her and was then placed on the transplant list. She was listed as a Status 2, but within days things got worse and she was bumped up to a Status 1 and a nationwide search began.

On the morning of Oct. 31, 2001 on my drive to the hospital, I heard the radio announcer state that President Bush had grounded all aircraft because of a possible terror attack. (This was right after 9/11). My heart sunk. I got to the hospital and the news only got worse. I overheard one of the doctors on the team state that Ali probably had 20 hours to live. Time was fleeting. I could see my daughter dying right in front of me. All I could do was contact close friends and family and ask for their prayers.

My prayers were answered. We were lucky enough to find a match that could be recovered on ground rather than by flight. So my husband and I waited and prayed. We cried when they finally wheeled Ali to the operating room. We were told that the surgery would take between 10 and 20 hours. When her surgeon came nine hours later to see us, I was convinced that Ali had died on the operating table. It was too soon for him to be done.

Fortunately, my fears were wrong. Ali was alive and her surgery had gone well. Ali received the best gift anyone could possible receive - The Gift of Life. Ali received a full adult liver that shrunk down to the size of a 3-year-old and now grows with her as she grows. She has been given the chance to live like any other person. She hopes to be a registered nurse someday and with her healthy liver that is possible.

One never knows why some things happen to you in life, but you can try to find meaning in it all. For Ali, she has taught many to never give up and appreciate life. She is our little miracle daughter. My husband and I are so proud of her journey to be where she is today. She's had some set backs the past 10 years with rejection, the EB virus, the parvovirus, but with a great medical team and a great attitude she overcomes it all.

Today, she is a volunteer spokesperson for organ donation. She wants to educate others about the need for organ donation. She shares her story about her gift of life so many others may receive one, too. She is a sweet, kind-hearted teenager that has learned by her life experiences how important it is to share. She recently donated her long, red hair to "Locks of Love" for those less fortunate people that have lost their hair to medical treatments.

This past year Ali celebrated her 10-year anniversary and this milestone reminds us of our family motto: With Faith All Things Are Possible. I hope Ali's story inspires you to keep your faith!

Video: Ali at the Spotlight on Life Gala

Ali has formed a great friendship with transplant surgeon Dr. Anthony D'Alessandro, whom she calls "Dr. Tony." The two danced together at the National Kidney Foundation of Wisconsin's Spotlight on Life Gala in January 2012, performing a combination of cha-cha, rumba and salsa.

An update from Ali, age 17:

I have been very busy these last few years! At school I’ve been active over the years in gymnastics, dance, chorus, a cappella, drama club, and recently enjoyed Homecoming and my Junior Prom. I’m active at my church, where I work in the nursery and play in the bells choir. After I got my driver's license I started working as a child care provider at the Waunakee Village Center. I’m really enjoying my Tae Kwan Do advance classes, and I love to travel! I take trips to Florida to visit my older siblings. Next summer, after graduation, my mom and I plan to move there to be closer to family. I also plan to attend nursing school. This summer I plan on attending Madison College to pursue a CNA certificate, which will be a great stepping stone for my nursing career.

Ali, age 17Ali, age 17

I have led a very busy life, like most kids my age! I feel so blessed to be given the gift of life through my liver transplant. I have seen and done a lot in the last 15 years, and I plan to do much more in the future. I want to give back to others the knowledge I’ve gained through my medical journey, and at the top of that list is "compassion." When I’m a nurse I can be the role model that others have been to me. All of this is possible with the greatest gift of all - organ donation. My family and I cannot say thank you enough to all of those that have made my life possible. On Wisconsin, and on UW Health Transplant Program!