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THE FIRST TASTE OF CHRISTMAS; Double transplant has changed Kennedy's life.

Byline: By Lisa Adams

WHEN little Kennedy Quinn tucks in to her Christmas dinner, she will be getting her first proper taste of life The lively 22-month-old is looking forward to enjoying a traditional festive feast thanks to a life-saving operation.

Last Christmas, the little girl from Dundee was in hospital waiting for a donor to help her recover from gastroschisis, a rare condition which affects only one in 15,000 people.

It left her unable to eat and her parents Shelly Hughes and Kevin Quinn were struggling with the unthinkable - that their little girl was going to die.

Today thanks to Kennedy's fighting spirit - and the generosity of a donor family - her life has been transformed.

Shelly said: "Kennedy has a smile which helped us all get through it.

"She's running about like mad and saying new words every day, like a normal little girl. We didn't expect her to make it past six months and she's now looking forward to Christmas."

What a difference a year has made. At their lowest, the family felt like cancelling Christmas altogether last year. But that was impossible, Santa still had to visit, even if it was just for the sake of her sisters, Brooklynn, five, and Chelsea, four.

Kennedy should have been sampling her first solid food, relishing the tastes and textures of turkey and the trimmings, but her body was unable to absorb it.

Instead she had liquid food pumped directly in to her veins.

Although she was allowed out of hospital for a few hours to spend Christmas Day with her family, Kennedy had to go back in again at 5pm because she was fighting another infection.

"Her skin was so yellow because her liver wasn't working properly," said Shelly.

"Her tummy was swollen and she was out of breath because of all the pressure on her lungs. We thought it was going to be her last Christmas.

"I had nightmares that doctors were telling me they'd done everything they could but couldn't save her. I really thought she was going to die."

Kennedy was only well enough to go on the transplant list on December 28 and it was a huge relief when just weeks later, a suitable new liver and small bowel became available.

After they got the call at 3am, they had less than an hour to get out of the house and into an air ambulance for the rush to Birmingham Children's Hospital.

Kennedy had the 12-hour operation on January 25 this year, less than a month before her first birthday.

"Kissing her goodbye before the operation was terrible," said Shelly.

"The next few hours felt like a week. When I asked for regular updates all they'd say was that she was stable.

"When she finally came back to intensive care I've never wanted to see her more in my life."

They could tell the difference within hours as Kennedy's skin was pink for the first time and the sickly yellow colour of her eyes was replaced with sparkling blue. She was out of intensive care after seven days.

Shelly said: "She's a little miracle, I've never seen a girl with such an appetite. She even likes broccoli and all the veg you normally struggle to get kids to eat.

"You would eat like that too if you hadn't eaten anything for the first 11 months of your life."

Things had started going wrong almost as soon as Shelly got pregnant. She suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, a pregnancy side effect which meant she was sick almost continually.

Shelly is 5ft 5in but her weight dropped to seven stone and at a routine 20-week scan, midwives spotted a problem.

Kennedy had gastroschisis, which meant her small bowel had developed outside her stomach. When she was born by emergency caesarean section, four weeks prematurely, doctors explained that to survive at all, 5lb 1oz Kennedy needed an urgent operation.

She had her first operation at Edinburgh's Sick Children's hospital just four hours later.

"I kept asking why this had happened, but the doctors didn't really have an answer," said Shelly.

"It wasn't because of anything I'd done wrong. It was just one of these things."

Like most new parents, Shelly and Kevin had imagined those precious first few months would be spent at home getting to know their baby.

Instead their life now revolved around a children's ward, first in Edinburgh and later at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.

But while the liquid food which was pumped through her veins kept her alive, it also damaged her liver.

Kennedy's only true shot at survival was a liver and small bowel transplant and they got the news last September.

"The doctors were straight with us," said Shelly. "They said if she doesn't geta transplant she'll die. That's hard to imagine when you look at her now."

Kennedy relies on 20 pills, which she takes four times a day, to stay well and has a check-up every month, but apart from that she is just like any other toddler.

And she is fascinated by the Christmas tree that is already up in her house.

Shelly said: "She keeps eating the chocolate decorations on the tree. But it's almost impossible to get cross with her."

And they've not forgotten the donor who made this possible either. All they know is that it was a seven-year-old girl who died in a house fire. They have already sent a letter and a photograph of Kennedy to the family to say thank you.

"What can you possibly write in a letter like that?" asked Shelly.

"In their darkest hours they were able to think of others. Now our little girl is able to have a normal life thanks to them.

"That's the best present anyone could hope for at Christmas


JUST LOOK AT HER NOW: Kennedy is looking forward to spending Christmas at home with mum Shelly and sisters Brooklynn and Chelsea; FIGHTING FOR LIFE: Kennedy Quinn spent her early months in hospital; ALAN RICHARDSON
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 7, 2005
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