Hunter Davis was 2 weeks old when he was diagnosed with the biliary atresia – a rare disease of the liver and bile ducts that occurs in infants. Hunter’s bile ducts were inflamed and blocked, causing bile to build up in his liver and destroy his cells. Symptoms of the disease develop about two to eight weeks after birth.
“Two weeks after he was born, we noticed his skin yellowing and it wasn’t going away,” said Heather Davis, Hunter’s mom. “The doctors originally thought it was jaundice, but his bilirubin numbers were not consistent, so that’s when we drove to Birmingham to Children’s of Alabama to get him tested.”
At Children’s, Hunter underwent a five-hour imaging procedure to diagnose his condition. He also had a liver biopsy. Two days later, Hunter had surgery to connect his liver to his small intestine, allowing the bile to drain directly out of his body.
“He was around 2 months old when they performed the surgery,” Heather said, recalling her worry as she waited for updates. “It was the worst night of my life.”
The surgery was a success and today Hunter is doing well. He loves hunting, fishing, swimming and playing with tractors. Although he looks healthy, he lives with common health issues associated with biliary atresia such as frequent and hard-to-stop nose bleeds, migraines and bloating. He is not allowed to play contact sports, climb monkey bars or jump on a trampoline.
“You would never know he was sick by looking at him,” Heather said. “But if he fell simply from walking, it could devastate his health by rupturing his spleen, which also plays the role of his liver.”
Since Hunter is so young, Heather is his No. 1 advocate. She feels it is important for others to be aware of biliary atresia and its effects.
“More people than I ever thought have it,” she said. “I’m on three different Facebook networks and converse with a number of other parents in the U.S. and other parts of the world who have children who are dealing with the same disease we are. It is really nice that we can come together and provide support for each other.”
In addition to her support network, Heather said she is grateful for the care Children’s has provided Hunter over the years. “If we have to go to the emergency room, we drive all the way to Birmingham. Other hospitals do not know how to treat him because not everyone knows about this disease like they do. We just love Children’s and I would recommend them to anyone!”