'He didn't hesitate': Father saves his three-year-old son's life by donating part of his own liverDaniel O’Shaugnessy was given just months to liveHis father decides to risk his life to donate part of his own liverBoth have now made a full recovery

When his son Daniel was given just months to live without a lifesaving transplant, devoted father David made a brave decision.

His son was suffering from a rare liver condition and it was unlikely that surgeons would find a donor liver in time. So he decided to step forward and risk his life to donate part of his own liver to save his desperately ill son.

Surgeons removed a fifth of Mr O’Shaugnessy’s liver and transplanted it into his son – who has now made a complete recovery. Mrs O’Shaugnessy, 42, a pre-school teacher, said: ‘I’m just so grateful to David for saving our son.

A family affair: When his son Daniel was given just months to live without a lifesaving transplant, devoted father David (right) made a brave decision and decided to donate part of his own liver

A family affair: When his son Daniel (right) was given just months to live without a lifesaving transplant, devoted father David made a brave decision and decided to donate part of his own liver

‘It was a risky operation for him, but he never hesitated to risk his own life to save Daniel. It was terrible seeing them both go through the operations at the same time, and I had to go between one hospital ward and the other to help them both. But luckily they have both recovered. To see Daniel doing so well now is amazing.’

Little Daniel, now three, was diagnosed with the life-threatening condition biliary atresia when he was just 12 weeks old. Biliary atresia is a serious but rare disease of the liver that affects newborn children.

It occurs in approximately one in 10,000 babies and it means that the loss of the bile ducts cause bile to remain in the liver and damage it. It can lead to liver failure which can only be cured with a transplant.

Mrs O’Shaugnessy first noticed there was a problem with her son when he was just four days old, in February 2008.
She said: ‘He was jaundiced, but I thought that it would clear up
within a few days as a lot of babies are jaundiced after birth.

‘Two weeks later he was still jaundiced,
so I started to get worried. At his eight week check up his stomach was
so swollen too that his belly button had been pushed outwards, but the
GP just told me to put him in the window to get some more sunlight.


A rare disease in which the tubes which drain liquid bile from the liver are progressively destroyed.

This fibrosis of the biliary duct system results in a build up of bile, which damages the liver.

As a result, the condition invariably leads to death from liver failure by the age of two if untreated.

Effective surgery can relieve symptoms in most cases and a liver transplant is also an option.

As a result, survival rates are now above 90 per cent.

It's not clear how or why the disease occurs, and many factors may be involved.

Bile is made by the liver and helps with the digestion of fats. If bile is not removed from the liver, it builds up and begins to damage it.

The baby can develop develop jaundice, or a yellow colour of the skin as levels of the bile chemical bilirubin rise in the blood.

Tests are often required to confirm a diagnosis of biliary atresia, as the symptoms can be confused with other conditions.

The earlier the condition is detected, the less damage it will have done to the liver and the better the chance of a successful outcome to treatment.

‘When I showed the doctor his stomach he said that it was normal for his belly button to be stuck out.’

Daniel’s health continued to deteriorate and when he was 12 weeks old his condition was diagnosed as biliary atresia. Mrs O’Shaugnessy said: ‘We were so shocked when the doctors told us what he had, and completely devastated.’

Daniel underwent an operation immediately to try and redirect the bile through his liver but it wasn’t a success.

Mrs O’Shaugnessy said: ‘His liver had already been too badly damaged for the operation to work. If he had been diagnosed earlier when his symptoms first became apparent then he would probably only have needed the first operation.

‘But by the time it was carried out the surgeons told us that it was too badly damaged. His only chance of survival was a liver transplant.’

Daniel was put onto the transplant list for seven months, but as the months went by, no donor liver could be found. Daniel’s condition started to worsen and the doctors approached Mr O’Shaugnessy to see if he would consider donating part of his own liver to save his son.

Mrs O’Shaugnessy said: ‘After two months of being on the transplant list, there was no donor to be found and Daniel started to get worse, which was terrifying. We knew that a liver transplant was the only way of saving him.

‘When the doctors asked David if he would be a donor, he didn’t hesitate. Luckily he proved to be a good match for Daniel, which meant that the transplant could go ahead.

‘I was worried about both my son and my husband being in the operating theatre at the same time, and it was a risky decision for David to make, but it was Daniel’s only chance of survival and he didn’t hesitate to save him.’

The transplant took place in December 2008 and Mr O’Shaugnessy, who works in pharmaceuticals, was taken down first to the operating theatre, Mrs O’Shaugnessy said: ‘I walked down with David first, then I had to carry Daniel down a short while later. It was a nervewracking wait whilst the operations took place and I just had to pray that everything would be alright.’

A fifth of his father’s liver was taken out and transplanted into Daniel and operation was a success. Mrs O’Shaugnessy said: ‘I had to run between the hospital wards after the operation and I would feel guilty leaving one to go and see the other. But just a couple of days after the operation, David was well enough to walk down the corridor and come and see Daniel. It was a very emotional moment, knowing that he had saved his son’s life.’

Mr O’Shaugnessy took two months to recover before he went back to work, but Daniel suffered constant infections and potential rejection for the next two years and was in hospital. He has only just made a complete recovery and the family, who are supported by the Children’s Liver Disease Foundation, are thrilled with his progress.

Mrs O’Shaugnessy said: ‘We had a constant worry that the liver was going to be rejected and he was constantly having to go back into hospital for treatment, but now it finally seems to have settled down and he is doing well. He has to go for check ups every two months now, and he has just started nursery school in September. I am so grateful to David – he has given our son a second chance at life.’

For more information visit www.childsliverdisease.org