Student off to university after six liver transplants
A student is looking forward to taking up his place at university after a lifetime battling liver disease.
Steven Featley will take his place at the University of Suffolk in September after recovering from his sixth liver transplant in November.
The 23-year-old from Stoke Ash has spent his life fighting a rare liver condition and undergone a total of 15 surgical operations, including six liver transplants and a splenectomy.
“Although experience has taught me not to plan too far ahead, I am really excited to have been accepted at university ,” said Steven.
“I was supposed to start two years ago but ill-health prevented me.
“I needed my sixth liver transplant in November, from which I am still recovering.
“Liver disease is strange as you don’t notice the symptoms until it is often too late. Then, when it hits you, it hits you bad.
“I can’t tell you the number of times I have been in hospital, the number of ultrasound scans and blood tests I have had in my life.
“I am looking forward to getting out into the world again, socialising and studying for my degree.”
Steven was born with biliary atresia, a rare childhood disease of the liver in which one or more bile ducts are abnormally narrow, blocked or absent.
He underwent his first transplant at King’s College Hospital, London, when he was just 14-months-old.
Three months later, he suffered complications which meant a second transplant was needed.
At the time, he was only the 12th person in the UK to receive a partial transplant from a living relative – his mum Eira.
The surgery was successful for 10 years and Steven was able to enjoy his early life. By the age of 11, however, doctors discovered that the main vein into his heart was clotting again. He underwent a third transplant in 2006.
Two life-threatening emergencies resulted in two further transplants in 2013 and in 2016.
“I knew that I was not well from an early age,” said Steven. “The first two transplants took place when I was so young that I don’t remember them.
“When I fell ill prior to my third transplant, I was in Year 6 at primary school; I missed a lot of that year and, though I was welcomed back by classmates, I had very few friends, as I had not been able to socialise the way other children did.
“I was used to mixing with adults rather than my peers.”
Steven has been motivated to speak out after losing a friend he met while at King’s Hospital last year.
“Hospital has been like my second home,” he said.
“One day in August 2016, I received a box of sweets and a phone number from a girl called Autumn, who I had known through hospital when I was younger.
“On Easter Sunday last year, I learned that she had died, waiting for her third liver transplant.
“I am passionate about organ donation. It upsets me to see babies and children going through what I did, and I know more than anyone how traumatic the experience is for their families.
“My message to anyone is please join the Organ Donor Register and tell your family of your wishes. It is the greatest gift you can give as a human being.
“Every day, people die on the transplant waiting list and more donors are urgently needed.”
Steven says that his experience has also taken its toll on himself and his family.
“Although I believe I am mentally strong and have coped with a lot, I have had to have treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said.
“It’s not the kind of experience you can get through on your own.
“The Children’s Liver Disease Foundation has been a real help to me throughout my life. The charity was there for my parents from when I was diagnosed age six weeks.
“It provided information which explained what was wrong with me and, over the years, it has been there, providing a listening ear and constant support for me and my family.
“My ambition is to become a chartered accountant as I really want to prove that all this treatment has been worthwhile.
“The NHS has been brilliant and is the best health service in the world.
“I know that my situation raises difficult questions and that many people will ask why I have had six transplants when there are others waiting for one.
“All I can say is that, in each case, there were clear medical reasons for my transplants, all of which were outside my control. I know how incredibly lucky I am to be here.”
The Children’s Liver Disease Foundation (CLDF) is a UK charity which provides information, support, research funds and a voice for sufferers and their families.
For further information, go to www.childliverdisease.org
To register for organ donation, go to www.organdonation.nhs.uk