Flying Halfway Around the World for a Chance to Live

Haydee YanesaHaydee Yanesa came to NYP/Columbia from the Philippines after suffering for many years with chronic liver disease. Following the birth of her daughter in 2007, Haydee was told that she had hepatitis B. “My blood work was normal,” Haydee says, “so I didn’t pay any attention to it.”

When Haydee went for a check-up the following year, she was told she had cirrhosis, a condition where scar tissue builds up and affects the liver’s ability to function. “The doctors gave me medication,” she recalls, “but I didn’t take it. I was still in denial because I felt okay.” A doctor she consulted for second opinion confirmed the diagnosis and sent her for a bone marrow test, concerned that her body wasn’t producing enough platelets. He prescribed liver medication. Haydee took it for a while, then as is the custom in the Philippines, she turned to an alternative healer, and once she started taking herbs, she tapered off her pills.

Two years later, Haydee and her family moved to Guam where she developed a blood infection. “All of a sudden, I felt terrible. I would stand up in the morning and then pass out,” she recalls. “There were times I couldn’t walk or bend down.” Soon she was in so much pain that she couldn’t sleep on an ordinary mattress and need a foam cradle. Sometimes it took four people to move her from one room to another. “My back hurt a lot, and I couldn’t bear to be touched,” she says.

Since there were limited medical facilities in Guam, Haydee returned to the Philippines—a painful four-hour flight—to see a liver specialist. A new round of tests showed that she was suffering from water retention and liver disease, along with osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone.

In late 2013, Haydee was hospitalized. Unable to respond coherently to family or her doctors, she was gravely ill and in need of a liver transplant. A specialist familiar with liver disease advised that her best hope was Columbia’s Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation, more than 8,000 miles away, in New York City.

The family bundled Haydee up and flew half way around the world, not knowing whether they could afford to pay for her life-saving operation. The CLDT was able to take Haydee’s international medical insurance, and she also benefitted from a program that allocates a small number of donor organs to international patients who can’t get liver transplants closer to home. In 2015, Haydee’s transplant was performed at Columbia. Two weeks later, she needed a second surgery.

Haydee suffered many complications because she was so sick by the time she had her transplant. But she had faith in her doctors. "When I got to Columbia, I knew I would get better,” she said. “I had the very best team. And because of my daughter, I never gave up hope.”

The Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation is a national leader in the field, providing the most comprehensive care available for complex patients like Haydee. Dr. Wattacheril, a hepatologist who cared for Haydee since her arrival from the Philippines, continues to monitor her closely, advising her on the right regimen to keep her liver in optimal health.

“Haydee has been one tough cookie. Her pre-transplant and post-transplant course were not easy!” says Dr. Wattacheril. “She has such fierce tenacity―when we hit obstacles, Haydee kept going. Her nurse practitioners and social workers also deserve much of the credit for her survival.”

“Dr. Wattacheril is a great physician, and my whole care team has been amazing,” says Haydee who is now a healthy mom. “They made the hospital into a second home for me and for my family, and they are always in my heart.”

Read more about the Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation »