‘It’s like a switch was flipped’: New Milford toddler thrives with new liver

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

NEW MILFORD — Charlotte McDermott spends her days pushing her unicorn-shaped toy car, throwing sticks for the family dog Nico to catch, and climbing on everything in sight.

While the 20-month-old may seem to be doing the same activities as other toddlers, to her family, everything Charlotte does is a miracle.

As a baby, Charlotte was diagnosed with the rare and life-threatening disease, biliary atresia, and spent most of her young life in the hospital.

At 9 months old, Charlotte underwent a 10-hour-long liver transplant, which saved her life last April at Boston Children’s Hospital, according to her great aunt, Kelly Short.

Charlotte will celebrate the one-year anniversary of her transplant next week with a small family gathering in New Milford.

The road to a liver transplant

“When Charlotte was about 6 months old, the doctors saw her liver wasn’t working. She had several surgeries and was placed on a liver donation list,” Short said. “She was on many different medications to try to keep her immune system up and to treat the side effects of her liver failure. She had a feeding tube, she wasn’t able to eat. Her first months of life were spent trying to keep her alive.”

Ideally, according to Short, her doctors were looking for a living liver donor.

“We had friends and family members go through the screening process to see if they would be a candidate,” said Short, adding none were a match.

“She just got to be too sick and the surgical team at Boston said she’s at the top of the transplant list, and they will take any donor. She needs her transplant and she needs it now,” Short said.

A liver became available, and Charlotte had the transplant last April around Easter. She received a cadaver liver from a child, whose family wished to remain anonymous.

Within hours of surgery, Charlotte’s skin tone — which had been very yellow due to jaundice — was already starting to look normal, according to Short.

“Over the course of the next couple of days and weeks and months, she got better and better. It was a slow progression, but for people who don’t see her all the time, it was a shocking turnaround with how well she was doing,” Short said.

Shortly after the transplant, her family experienced a tragedy when Charlotte’s grandfather, Anthony Cavoto, of Brookfield, died with COVID-19.

To help with the family’s medical expenses, they raised $23,000 through an online fundraising campaign.

Charlotte is now healthy, starting to talk, and meeting all her milestones, according to Short.

“It’s like a switch was flipped and literally, she was given a new life,” Short said. “She is back to her smiling, bubbly, adorable self.”

Charlotte may need a second liver donation when she’s older, Short said.

“Having a cadaver donor from a child, there is a likelihood that the current transplant she has will only last for so long, and her surgical team is anticipating that sometime in her teen years, she would need an adult transplant to grow with her,” Short said.

Organ donation

Short wants to raise awareness to the life-saving importance of organ donation.

“Oftentimes, we only think about being an organ donor when we renew our driver’s license every couple of years, and are asked the question about donating if something catastrophic happens,” she said, adding that livers can regenerate completely.

“Unless you’re faced with a personal situation, most people wouldn’t think donating a liver while they’re alive,” Short said. “If you are a healthy adult, you have the power to save someone’s life. When do you ever really get that opportunity? What an amazing gift to be able to give to someone.”

Short said Charlotte’s pediatrician said she’s on track developmentally and no longer in need of physical therapy services.

“After so many months of not being mobile, she’s definitely making up for it now,” chuckled Short, adding Charlotte will soon be a big sister, since her mother, Ali McDermott, is expecting a baby in June.

“She will have routine biopsies throughout her childhood to determine the ongoing health of the liver, but is making great strides,” Short said. “She’s really closing the gap.”

To register as an organ donor, call the Yale Center for Living Organ Donors at 866-YALE-TXP; and at Hartford Hospital, contact a living donor coordinator at 833-222-7770.