Liam Reed Story

The family is all smiles knowing Liam has received a successful liver transplant and is doing fine. Pictured (left to right) are Liam Reed, Jake Reed, Jackie and Mike Walker, and Aiko Reed.

By Steve Raymond

News Report Staff

“Liam receives the gift of life. Praise the Lord.”

Look on Jackie Walker’s calendar on September 1, 2016, and you will see those words written there.

That was the day 9-month-old Liam Reed received a much-needed, life-saving liver transplant.

It ended months of worry and stress for Mike and Jackie Walker, as they anguished over the well-being of their first grandchild.

But it was also a time of spiritual renewal for the Effingham couple, who witnessed numerous moments they could only describe as a “God thing.”

“Our family has never had to go through anything like this before,” Jackie explained. “We knew we just had to trust God and continue growing in our faith. Yes, we saw a God thing so many times. There’s just no other way to explain it.”

Mike and Jackie have been married for 25 years. They have three sons – Jake, Josh and Brady. They both grew up in the Stewardson and Strasburg communities and both graduated from Stew-Stras High School – Jackie in 1979 and Mike in 1980.

They dated in high school, but then didn’t see each other for 13 years while Mike was serving in the Navy. At a welcome home reception, they reunited, began dating again and married in May 1992.

“That, too, was a God thing,” Jackie admitted. “We had both made some bad decisions in our life, but we had both come back to our relationship with the Lord.”

Jackie is currently an advocate at the Family Life Center and Mike is the Business Development Director for ServPro and an assistant boy’s basketball coach at Teutopolis High School.

Like every couple, they were thrilled to learn they were going to become grandparents. Their oldest son, Jake, a 2001 graduate of Effingham High School, was stationed at the Naval base in Yokosuka, Japan. He and his wife, Aiko, lived there.

Liam was born on Nov. 30, 2015. And Jackie had plane tickets to fly to Japan and visit her grandson in January.

But just six weeks after Liam’s birth, they knew something was wrong. Liam’s stools were not the right color, in addition to his jaundice and tests revealed his liver was not working properly. He had biliary atresia and surgery was required right away.

The surgery — Kasai Procedure – was actually named after a Japanese doctor.

Biliary atresia is a rare condition in newborn infants in which the common bile duct between the liver and the small intestine is blocked or absent. Early surgical intervention to treat biliary atresia is critical to prevent irreversible liver damage. Once the liver fails, a liver transplant is required.

“I actually flew in the day he was in surgery,” Jackie recalled. “The first time I met my grandson was right after his surgery. He couldn’t eat and was strapped down. That was a hard time.

“It was also hard seeing my son hurting so badly,” she admitted. “It was definitely an emotional rollercoaster. We were told it would be about a month before we knew if the surgery worked or not.”

“When it was okay for him to take real food, I got to feed him his first bottle after surgery,” Jackie recalled. “I got to finally hold him, which meant a lot to me. I was there for two weeks when I had to leave and that was hard to do.”

Shortly after returning home, Jackie and Mike were informed the surgery was not successful and that Liam would need a liver transplant.

Immediately after hearing that diagnosis, the Navy classified Liam as a Special Circumstance and arranged to fly him and his family back to the states. Jake was reassigned to Naval Station Everett, which is near Seattle, Washington.

Liam was sent to the Seattle Children’s Hospital, which is one of the top pediatric transplant hospitals in the United States.

“The Navy stepped up big-time,” Mike noted. “As much as it was great for us, though, it was difficult for Aiko’s family to have to say goodbye to their grandson.”

Liam arrived at the hospital the end of March, and by April, he was on the liver transplant list. The family was told it could take months or more to find a match.

But during the following months, Liam’s condition continued to get worse. Eventually both Jack and Aiko were tested to see if they could be live donors. Aiko was not a good match, but Jake was. So it was decided he would donate 20 percent of his liver to Liam.

“It was just like what Nancy Ervin did to help Annaka Robison,” Mike noted. In fact, Mike and Jackie attend New Hope Church; the same church the Robinsons and Ervin’s attend.

Liam reached a point that he needed the transplant immediately. At one of the many ER visits with Liam, they got a call that they might have a donor.  They did not go home after this ER visit but stayed and Liam was prepped for surgery.  Instead of Liam and Jake having surgery in a few days, things moved very quickly.

The transplant started at 4 p.m. on August 31 and concluded at 4 a.m. September 1.

“We were happy, but sad at the same time to think about what had to happen to help Liam,” Jackie said. “We were only told there was a young child and a tragic accident. Someday, we hope we have the opportunity to express our gratitude for the gift they gave our family.”

The liver went in like “a puzzle piece,” Mike explained. “It was a perfect fit. The doctors knew it was working immediately. It responded amazingly well.”

Three weeks is the normal hospital time required following that type of surgery. Liam went home eight days later.

“The doctors said they had never seen anyone go home that quickly,” Jackie added. “God is so good.”

A year ago, Jake, Aiko and Liam were by themselves for Thanksgiving. Many precautions had to be taken to ensure Liam would not pick up any kind of infection.

But this year is a different story. He has gone from needing blood drawn three times a week to once a quarter. He has been released to travel and, along with Jake and Aiko, is in Japan celebrating Thanksgiving with Aiko’s parents, who have not seen Liam since they left for the states.

Another part of this story that Mike and Jackie are also grateful for is the amount of support and love they received from this community.

A fundraiser at Joe’s Pizza & Pasta and a benefit at Lake Sara helped raise funds to assist with Liam’s medical needs.

And then there was Gracie Eaton, the fifth grade daughter of Dean and Michelle Eaton. Gracie had heard about Liam and had been praying for him. At her birthday party, she asked her friends to bring a donation for Liam instead of gifts for her.

“We were truly humbled by the responses we received,” Jackie said. “This town is amazing when it comes to supporting others.”

“We are so grateful and thankful to be in a place that has so much love,” Mike added. “I was blown away by the support we received.”

Another unexpected surprise was Hannah Walker, from Altamont.

“When we first heard about Liam’s diagnosis, we shared that with our Bible study group and requested prayer,” Jackie recalled. “We were told about another family that had gone through the same thing. They had a little girl that had also needed surgery.”

Jackie contacted Hannah and soon discovered they had more in common than they thought.

As it turned out, Hannah’s brother-in-law Dylan Booher had been in flight school at the same time as Jake. And the two of them had become very good friends.

“So instantly we had a connection,” Jackie recalled. “Hannah has such a sweet spirit. She was willing to share anything with us. She explained about the Kasai Procedure and put us at ease. She was a calming force. She was definitely a God thing.”

Even though Mike and Jackie will not be with Liam this Thanksgiving, it will be still be a special time to give thanks.

“The one constant throughout this entire experience is God’s faithfulness,” Mike said. “He never wavers or loses strength. He’s steadfast and rock solid. And as we dug into the scriptures and prayed, he delivered a peace. We knew God had a plan for Liam. We just needed to be faithful.”

Liam, who will turn 2 on Thursday, Nov. 30, is expected to live a full life with a few restrictions. Mike and Jackie hope to visit him about every three months.

“And, hopefully, he can come here sometime and we can show him off,” Jackie said.

“There’s something special about having a grandbaby,” Mike added. “It’s a gift that’s priceless. When you see him run to you saying ‘papaw,’ it gets you. It makes me light up. I try to end every day with a mental list of what I’m thankful for. One of the things on that list is the health of Liam.”