A young mum from Saffron Walden is looking forward to a very special Mothers’ Day this weekend, as she has already received an incredible gift from her own mum – a new liver for her baby son.
Little Hudson Penning, who is now 20 months, was born with the rare and life- threatening disease, Alagille Syndrome, which affects his liver, heart and kidneys.
“We all knew from the moment Hudson was diagnosed with Alagille Syndrome that a transplant was a possibility if his liver disease did not improve,” says Hudson’s mum, Chelsea, 30. From that point my mum had always said she would be his donor if she could and ensured she kept herself fit and in good health.”
The family had received information and support from Children’s Liver Disease Foundation following Hudson’s diagnosis and, keen to help others in their situation, raised an amazing £26,700 for the charity in little over a year, helped by family, friends and the local community.
In July last year, it became clear that Hudson would need a liver transplant. And although Chelsea and her husband, Tom, were also assessed to be a live donor by the team at Kings College Hospital, the family decided that Chelsea’s mum, Sengar, was indeed the best option. “It meant that myself and Tom could care for Hudson in those early days post-transplant with my dad, Ian, taking care of my mum”, explains Chelsea. For Sengar herself, the decision was an easy one.
“My mum never hesitated, never,” continues Chelsea. “ Tom and I explained to her many times that she did not have to go through with it and, even if she decided she didn’t want to at the last minute, that was okay (we still can’t get our heads around what she has done!). I think the hardest part for all of us was electing the surgery in the first place. Clearly Hudson had a medical requirement for a liver transplant but ‘picking a date’ for your child and mum to go under the knife was one of the hardest decisions we have ever made. Of course, the other option would have been just as difficult – waiting for months for a liver from a deceased donor as Hudson’s health deteriorated.”
Once Sengar and Hudson had been through all the necessary assessments, both operations went ahead at Kings on November 13, at a time when the pandemic added to the family’s stress.
“We opted to rent an apartment near to the hospital as the charitable housing options were all closed due to Covid,” says Chelsea. “Restrictions also meant that Tom and I were not allowed to be with Hudson together, only allowed to swap to care for him every 24 hours. It was tough because you don’t get much rest caring for a toddler in intensive care or on the ward.
“As for my mum, my dad could visit for an hour a day. My mum was discharged six days after surgery which is just incredible. She went back to the apartment where my dad and Tom continued to take care of her. The first time my mum and dad saw Hudson after the transplant was a hugely emotional moment. They met in the park behind Kings College Hospital and first thing they noticed was that he was clearing his jaundice! Hudson had been jaundiced since birth, so we never knew him to be any different.”
Since returning home in at the end of November, Hudson and his nana Sengar, who turned 55 just days after surgery, have gone from strength to strength.
“Hudson’s liver transplant has changed his life and ours,” says Chelsea. “One of the symptoms of his liver condition was severe itching – he had cuts all over his face and arms. Now he no longer itches, he can absorb fat and nutrients. He has grown and is so chatty. One of the biggest changes is the amount of energy he now has, we thought he had energy before, but he is now supercharged and into everything!”
Sengar returned to work remotely in February and is now back at the Orthodontic Practice where she works as a treatment manager and has also returned to running. “She has taken it all in her stride and we’ve never once heard her complain,” says Chelsea.” Seeing Hudson thrive has definitely strengthened her bond with him and helped with the healing. They love one another so much.
Hudson and his Nana have a special bond
“This has been the most challenging journey we’ve ever had to go through, and we still have a long way to go in terms of Hudson’s ongoing care. He is now immunosuppressed which has its own complications and he already has kidney and heart issues, which is part of Alagille Syndrome. But despite all of that, we are all the happiest we have ever been and seeing Hudson thrive is at the very heart of that. What has happened has been the biggest hurdle but the biggest blessing. We cannot thank the team at Kings College Hospital (and all of the other hospitals Hudson is under) enough. We really are forever indebted to them for saving our boy’s life. And of course, to my wonderful mum and Hudson’s Nana for the ultimate gift!”
Alison Taylor, Chief Executive of Children’s Liver Disease Foundation commented: “A diagnosis of liver disease in your child is a shattering blow, but Chelsea and Tom were determined to help Hudson and other children like him by undertaking and inspiring some fantastic fundraising while caring for a poorly baby. We’re delighted that his transplant has been a success and that his Nana has made such a good recovery. We shall continue to be there for Hudson in the coming years and look forward to hearing how he progresses.”