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‘Please God, let me help my daughter:’ Bridgeport dad loses weight, saves baby girl

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Updated: January 26, 2014 6:29AM



For two months, Eduardo Camargo ran nearly 20 miles a week.

He ran through the pain, nausea and tears. Often, he prayed for strength.

Camargo, who hadn’t worked out in years, ran for his life ­­— to save his ailing baby girl.

At 210 pounds, Camargo wasn’t healthy enough to donate part of his liver to Jazlyn. She was born on April 3, 2012 with biliary atresi — a potentially fatal condition that prevents the bile duct from growing properly.

And when doctors at Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern Memorial Hospital told the Bridgeport family their daughter needed a liver transplant at just five months old, Camargo immediately volunteered.

“They looked at my wife and said, ‘She’s a better option’ . . . but I told them, ‘No. I’ve got three girls. They need their mom. Three girls need their mom more than their dad. I can’t risk my wife. It has to be me.’”

So, the father of three — Jazlyn, Jaylene, age 6 and Jackie, age 14 — told doctors he’d lose the weight, and get rid of his fatty liver disease, a condition in which too much fat accumulates in the liver. It’s sometimes caused by obesity or diabetes and can cause inflammation or scarring of the liver, according to Mayo Clinic. The disease prevented him from being a donor.

“I was weak in the knees, crying when I was running,” Camargo, 35, said. “After work, I would go to the gym and I actually got up to running six miles an hour. Halfway through, I actually felt like I was going to vomit, but I would think of my daughter. In my head I would say, ‘Please God, let me help my daughter.’ And I would get watery eyes. I just kept going.”

Camargo ran six miles every other day and added more vegetables to his diet, losing 40 pounds in two months. That was fall of 2012. The doctors were shocked.

The timing of his dramatic weight loss was crucial and ended up saving his daughter’s life.

Jazlyn began vomiting blood the day before the scheduled surgery on Nov. 19, 2012. The 7-month-old girl’s liver was failing.

Jazlyn was hospitalized on a Sunday, the day before the surgery. By 5 a.m. the next day, Camargo walked into Northwestern, ready to donate part of his liver: “I told my daughters I love them. I said no matter what I’ll be here with you. And I went into surgery,” Camargo said.

As soon as Camargo could blink in the intensive care unit, he tried to get out of bed to see Jazlyn at the children’s hospital next door.

“I started to scream out to my daughter, and I tried to get up and the nurse rushed in and grabbed me and said ‘No, no, you can’t get up. You’ll open your wounds.’”

Hospital staff told Camargo he’d be able to see her once he walked three laps around the hospital, and could go to the bathroom. By 5 a.m. his nurses realized he wouldn’t stop asking to see his daughter, he says, and asked the doctor if he could go take a walk.

He was supposed to do three laps. He did 10.

His father placed him in a wheelchair and rolled him over to see Jazlyn. Her surgery was also successful. By noon the day after his surgery, Camargo was able to see the daughter he saved.

“I had this adrenaline because I wanted to go see my daughter. So when I got to the room in a wheelchair, I got up and grabbed her hand. I said ‘Thank you God, thank you God. Please help my daughter. You helped her this far. Let her go all the way.’”

After five minutes of standing, Camargo’s body sent him a message: “It was like somebody turned on a switch. I just couldn’t move. I fell back down. I got weak in the knees and my dad said, ‘Alright it’s time for you to go. We’ll come back to see her,’” Camargo said. “But I had to see her. I had to see it to believe that she was OK.”

The surgery was part of Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Living Liver Donation program — one of the largest living donor liver programs in the country. The liver is the only organ in the body that can grow back.

“If you take out part of a liver, it will regenerate. By three weeks, you probably have about 80 percent volume [of what was removed], and by three months, almost 98 percent,” according to Dr. Talia Baker, the director of Northwestern’s living donor program.

About 20 percent of Camargo’s liver was removed by surgeons at Northwestern. Doctors wrapped the segment and walked it over to Lurie’s through a pedway. Dr. Juan Carlos Caicedo, a transplant surgeon and director of Northwestern’s Hispanic Liver Transplant Program performed both procedures.

A year later, Jazlyn is just like any other kid, according to her mother Gaby Camargo.

She echoes every word she hears. And she taps her feet on the ground quickly, saying “happy feet.” She smiles when she sees Jaylene, the sister who taught her how to high-five and fist bump.

“Last year at this time, me and my wife were going back and forth from the hospital to visiting my kids, who were at home with my parents. My heart was broken. It was really hard, because you want to have everyone together but you can’t. This year, we’re actually all together, so it feels really good. It feels really good.”

Jazlyn’s recovery, even a year after the surgery, isn’t entirely over. Anti-rejection medications used after the transplant caused some complications, and the infant became accustomed to visiting the hospital once a week for a blood draw. But there are some gains: she’s down to six medications from the 14 she took right after the surgery.

Camargo also recovered well from the surgery. And the inseparable duo now have an even stronger bond.

“To this day, every time I go to work every day in the morning — my wife gets mad — I go bother her [while she’s sleeping]. I make sure she opens up her eyes and looks at me,” Camargo said. “Once she opens up her eyes and looks at me, I go to work happy.”

Email: tsfondeles@suntimes.com

Twitter: @tinasfon



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