Lebogang Tsele

Children who had undergone liver transplants, their families, friends and the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre doctors and staff gathered recently to celebrate the successes of the hospital's liver transplant centre.

The party, held last weekend, was also to celebrate with the children the gift of life that organ donors give.

Urging the public to become donors the organiser of the event and parent of one of the children, Gapi Molelekeng, said: "The reason we're here is to allow people who don't know about organ donation to go away knowing what it is all about - and to go away as donors."

She said it was also important that all the medical staff involved in saving the lives of children be acknowledged and told about the pleasures they give to families that have received a donation.

"We need to acknowledge each other and understand how important we are in each other's lives," she said.

In an event full of fun and laughter, the liver transplant children and their parents told their stories of heartache, struggle and unspeakable joy and gratitude.

Among the patients was seven-year-old Joshua Silbert.

After suffering from biliary atresia and liver cirrhosis as an infant, Joshua became the first recipient of a liver transplant with a relative as donor in South Africa in September 2002.

His mother Kim, who was the donor, said it had been a rollercoaster ride but things are now really going well.

She described the youthful Star Wars fan as a dynamo who never stops. He's so energetic and full of life.

The living-related donor liver transplant procedure involves the removal of about a third of the donor's liver, which is then transplanted into the patient.

It mostly involves parent-to-child transplants and, according to Professor AWJ Millar of the Southern African Transplant Society, the recipient outcome has had an about 95 percent success rate.

Nthabeleng Thomas, 14, regarded as one of the country's first paediatric liver transplant patients, said: "I was blessed with a liver and a second chance at life.

"God is love. He blessed me with a loving family and amazing doctors."

Nthabeleng was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2005.

Also there was the country's first baby liver transplant patient.

Already a celebrity at the hospital, Phoenix Potgieter was born with biliary atresia. He underwent a liver transplant in February 2006 when he was 20 months old.

His mother, Charmaine Potgieter, said: "The doctors were quite anxious because they weren't ready at the time.

"He was the first baby they did and it was an exciting and very trying time for us."