2015-06-09 / Front Page

Bowling Green Teenager’s Family And Friends Raising Funds For Life-Saving Liver Transplant

Staff Report

Conner Smith Conner Smith With the cost of a transplant often exceeding $500,000, many transplant families are unable to shoulder the financial burden of such a procedure. The Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) is a national charity dedicated to organizing and guiding communities in raising funds for transplant related expenses. In nearby Bowling Green, volunteers are raising funds for COTA in honor of transplant patients like local teen, Conner Smith.

Conner, a student at Owen Valley Middle School, is the son of Peggy Maddin Smith and Joseph Smith. As a baby he was diagnosed with Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic disorder that affects his liver.

In the years since, young Conner has endured more than his fair share of medical procedures, including two hernia surgeries, and has been in and out of Riley Hospital for Children more than 13 times.

One such incident occurred on July 24, 2002 at a Little League baseball game in Spencer when Conner slipped and fell into a small puddle while playing, fracturing his femur bone. Doctor’s were able to repair the damage and the then two-and-ahalf year-old was placed in a full body cast for nearly two months.

Tragedy struck again nearly eight years later when just two days after his 11th birthday, Conner suffered a fall while riding one of the family horses.

Peggy and Joe rushed the youngest of their three sons to the closest medical service, where EMTs called for the LifeLine helicopter. Conner’s parents watched helplessly as the helicopter left for Riley Hospital and then jumped in their car to follow.

“Conner came into the emergency room awake and talking to us although he was very pale,” pediatric surgeon-in-chief Fred Rescorla, M.D. recalled in an article printed in the spring 2011 issue of ‘Riley Messenger,’ a publication dedicated to the friends and partners of Riley Children’s Foundation. “I called the OR and told them to get everything ready. We’d stabilize him and send him up. I even thought there was a chance he might not need surgery.”

Instead, Conner’s blood pressure crashed. The surgeon called the OR back and told them to hurry to the ER; Conner was too unstable to be transported. The OR nurses grabbed their supplies and ran to his room within minutes. “We put in a breathing tube so I could operate,” Dr. Rescorla said. “I threw some Betadine on his abdomen and was in within two minutes. The blood literally poured out.” At that point, Dr. Rescorla estimated Conner’s chance of survival to be less than one percent.

His parents arrived at the horrific scene as Dr. Rescorla stuffed Conner’s abdomen with pads, applying pressure while other members of the team administered CPR and gave him blood. Once Conner was resuscitated, they moved him to an operating room, where Dr. Rescorla could more methodically look for the source of bleeding. He clamped a ruptured vein, tied off blood vessels and removed Conner’s football sized spleen, which had split in half.

Conner’s Alpha-1 disorder had caused his spleen to extend beyond the ribs that normally protect it, pediatric gastroenterologist Jean Molleston, M.D. explained. While she routinely advises her patients with cirrhosis and enlarged spleen to avoid full contact sports, she called Conner’s accident “a super-rare event.”

Conner’s recovery was equally remarkable. Six days after surgery, he was off the ventilator and out of the intensive care unit (ICU). Twelve days after the accident, he went home. “He’s totally back to normal,” his mother told the ‘Riley Messenger.’ “Riley Hospital doctors and staff saved my son’s life; there’s no other way to put it.”

Recently, the doctors at IU Health-Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis recommended Conner undergo a life-saving liver transplant.

Volunteers are needed to assist with fund-raising activities that will help with transplant-related expenses. Individuals and groups interested in more information can contact community coordinators David and Angie Collier at 812-821-7009 or collierang@yahoo.com. Volunteers hope to raise an estimated $60,000.

In addition, Conner’s family has asked for assistance from the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA). The organization’s priority is to assure that no child or young adult is denied a transplant or excluded from a transplant waiting list due to lack of funds. One hundred percent of all funds raised are used for patients’ transplant related expenses.

Donations may be mailed to the Children’s Organ Transplant Association, 2501 West COTA Drive, Bloomington, Indiana 47403. Checks or money orders should be made payable to COTA, with “In Honor of Conner S.” written on the memo line of the check. Secure credit card donations are also accepted online at www.COTAforConnerS.com.

The now fifteen-yearold’s favorite NASCAR driver is Columbus, Indiana native Tony Stewart, whom he hopes to meet one day.

“I have always like Tony because he is a local driver and for the way he drives, but even more because back in 2013 when Tony broke his leg in a sprint car crash and couldn’t drive his NASCAR car the rest of the season I missed seeing him race,” Conner said. “And I feel like we have something in common with both of us breaking our leg and not being able to do what we enjoy.”

Just this past month, Conner was visited by a representative of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. When told he could choose from a variety of unforgettable experiences, from meeting a famous person to traveling to a far off location, the soft spoken teen thought for a moment and replied, “I would just like a small gaming computer.” Needless to say, his parents were admittedly proud of the young man their son has grown to become.

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