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Department of Surgery News Archive

June 2018

Liver transplant saves toddler

Rebecca LaSalle

Rebecca LaSalle donated part of her liver, a gift that ended up saving the life of Manolo Gonzales.

Twenty-four-year-old Rebecca LaSalle of Montana remembers her mother encouraging her every day as a child to go out and “make the world a better place.” Some might dismiss this as a sweet, well-intentioned cliché, but Rebecca grew up to put it powerfully into practice.

Last year, Rebecca chose to undergo surgery to donate part of her own liver to a needy recipient. She didn't know who the recipient would be; she just knew that she could save a life. (Nationwide, there are more than three times as many patients on the liver-transplant waiting list as there are available livers.) Rebecca's act of generosity was even more extraordinary in light of the fact that she had already donated a kidney in 2016.

As it turned out, Rebecca's liver donation did, indeed, save a life: that of one-year-old Manolo Gonzales, who was born with a medical condition that caused his liver to fail. Manolo's mother, Samantha Gonzales, says the life-changing gift arrived at a moment when she had “lost faith in any kind of good person in the world.” She couldn't believe that a young woman who had never met her or her son would show that kind of generosity.

One-year-old Manolo Gonzales, liver transplant recipient, plays with his mother, Samantha.

The transplant took place at Children's Hospital Colorado on November 7, 2017. Rebecca's operation was performed by Dr. Elizabeth Pomfret, with Dr. Trevor Nydam assisting, and Manolo's surgery was performed by Dr. Michael Wachs, with Dr. Megan Adams assisting.

The moment Manolo woke up from the surgery, his mother saw a remarkable change in him. Before the surgery, Manolo had been lethargic and wouldn't eat solid food. Now he had energy and appetite. He was ready to start crawling the same day.

Now, six months later, Manolo is walking, playing, and thriving. This month, he returned to Children's Hospital Colorado for a checkup and a meeting with a special visitor: his organ donor, Rebecca LaSalle. CBS News was there when Rebecca met Manolo and his mother for the first time. You can watch the video on the CBS-4 website.