Jenny Tice, 34, makes sure she lives every day to the fullest. She is from the Bay Area, works in finance in San Francisco, leads an active life and volunteers. However, these milestones would not have been possible without the help of Carlos Esquivel, MD, chief of the division of transplantation at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health. He saved her life, twice.
“When I was 8 months old, I had jaundice and wasn’t gaining weight,” she says. “That’s when they found out there was something wrong.”
Tice was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a rare condition that affects the tubes of the liver called the bile ducts. It is the most common cause of liver failure in children and can be fatal without a transplant. In 1989, when Tice was born, liver transplants were almost never offered to children under 2 years old. The procedure was often considered too risky or difficult.
A pioneer in the field
Dr. Esquivel was an early advocate for offering liver transplants to sick babies and children. His efforts have saved hundreds of people, including Tice, who is one of his oldest patients. At Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, he and his team established a pediatric transplant program that is now recognized as one of the largest and most experienced in the world.
“He goes above and beyond the call of duty,” says Tice. “Knowing that this is really this person’s only chance, and that he’s giving him that second chance, I feel like he holds that very sacred.”
But Tice didn’t know who the man was until 30 years later, when she was hospitalized as an adult at Stanford Health Care because of her condition. Her surgeon came into the room and said, “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other.”
It was Dr. Esquivel. The same man who had saved her life as a baby was there to save her liver once again with bile duct surgery. She has had the same liver for over 30 years, which is much longer than the initial estimate of five years given to her.
Tice credits her success to the type of care she received at Stanford Medicine.
“[Dr. Esquivel] doesn’t want you in the hospital,” she recalls with tears in her eyes. “He doesn’t want you to be sick. But, when he fixes you, he has the biggest smile on his face, and I’ll never forget that. Your victories are his victories.
Because of her experience, Tice turned to activism. She now volunteers with a non-profit organization that raises awareness of biliary atresia and aims to propel research, as there is no known cure or cause for the condition.
“Life is precious and it’s something to be celebrated,” she says. “My story is possible because someone said ‘yes’ to the donation, so I’m celebrating this donation by sharing my experience in hopes it will inspire others and save lives.”
Tribute to the man who gave them a second chance
At the end of 2022, Dr. Esquivel is leaving his position as head of division to focus more on research and improving patient care. Once Tice and other patients heard about this, they knew they wanted to do something to say “Thank you.”
Nearly 10 families of patients gathered outside Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital to surprise him with a homecoming celebration, honoring his 35 years of service. It started by presenting Dr. Esquivel with a finger-painted flag from his youngest patients. Then there were speeches describing Dr. Esquivel’s impact on the field.
Reflecting on what it must have been like for him three decades ago, Tice had nothing but gratitude. “What do you say to someone who saved your life?” He is so brave. It’s so brave to embark on an operation that is inherently more risky, and in a time when we didn’t even have cell phones or the imaging that we have now. I have no words to describe how grateful I am to him. »
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