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Happiness Is a New, Warm Puppy to 8-Year-Old With Liver Transplant

December 26, 1985|LYNN SIMROSS

View has revisited some of the people and places it reported on in the last several months. Among them:

--Hollywood's Masquers Club, which because of declining funds sold its building and moved.

--Jimmy and Ricky Sperry, blinded in an accident 11 years ago, who received cornea transplants in August.

--Balu Natarajan, who triumphed over 167 other youngsters to win the National Spelling Bee in June.

Joe Russell stood in the doorway of his home in the high desert near Lancaster, watching son Zacharie play in the backyard with the family's new cocker spaniel puppy. Both boy and puppy were tearing around the yard as fast as they could go.

"It's remarkable," Russell said, with a big smile. "I had forgotten how sick Zack really was until I looked at some old photos the other day. Now he gets in the same trouble every other 8-year-old gets into."

Two years ago, Zack was a sick child who wouldn't have survived without a liver transplant. He was born with biliary artresia, an absence of bile ducts that causes the liver to malfunction and results in early death.

Great Deal of Pain

Because of his malfunctioning liver, Zack's stomach was distended and he was in pain almost all the time. He couldn't do much physically and had to maintain a strict diet.

In six years Zack was in and out of hospitals: Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Anaheim, Panorama City and on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles, the University of Pittsburgh's Children's Hospital and the University of Minnesota hospital. He had five major liver-related surgeries.

But on Aug. 2, 1983, Zack was flown to Pittsburgh, because the doctors at Children's had found a suitable donor for his liver transplant. The surgery took 13 1/2 hours and Zack came home to California 90 days later.

Although he has to return to Pittsburgh every April for four days of tests, Zack now plays soccer and football, rides his bike and gets good grades in school.

"He's an A and B student now and doing really well in school," his mother, Cathy, said at their Quartz Hill home. "He has always read a lot, and he likes to do book reports."

Zack attends Lancaster Christian School with his brother, Jeremy, 5. Youngest brother Jonathan, 3, will go there, too, when he's old enough.

Joe Russell, who works part time at Albertson's supermarket in Lancaster and sells real estate, takes his son back East every April, and the two spend a three-day vacation after Zack's hospital tests. "We usually go fishing or just take sightseeing drives around," said Russell. "We saw Lake Erie this year. Going East has gotten to be Zack's and my vacation together."

Since his surgery, Zack weighs 48 pounds and has been growing about 1 1/2 inches each year. "He only weighed 27 pounds when he had the transplant," his father said. "His weight is normal now and so is his rate of growth. He's still shorter than he should be, probably a head shorter than the other kids his age. But that was because of his liver when he was a baby. It (the malfunctioning liver) stunts growth."

As far as diet goes, Zack can eat anything he likes. "My favorite is still pizza," he said. "Plain cheese."

For the rest of his life, though, Zack will have to take drugs to keep his body from rejecting the transplanted liver. He takes Cyclosporin, an anti-rejection drug that causes several side effects to the youngster. He has high blood pressure, which must be regulated with another drug. His body hair grows much faster and thicker now.

"Since they have cut down his dosage of Cyclosporin, the hair isn't growing so much," said Russell. "But he has to go once a month to get his blood checked. They adjust the medicine depending on the tests."

Zack's medicine costs $6,000 a year. His overall medical costs are about $22,000 yearly.

"We are really thankful that Zack has done so well," Cathy Russell said. "He really has, except on days when you want him to clean his room."

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