Operation involving liver saves boy after dirt bike collision - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

Operation involving liver saves Michigan boy after dirt bike collision

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By Deena Centofanti
Fox 2 News

It happened in Linden, which is west of Fenton.  A boy on his dirt bike went around a corner and collided with another dirt bike.  His injuries were so catastrophic, one surgeon knew for this boy to survive he had to take a chance.

His dad prayed for the day twelve-year-old Max Bontekoe would walk again.  It was months in the making, filled with agonizing hours of rehabilitation.  Just the fact that Max is alive is incredible.

August 26, 2011, Max was airlifted to the University of Michigan hospital.  He was conscious and even talking.  What no one knew at the time was that he had massive internal injuries and the odds were he wouldn't survive.

"I was really very fearful for his life," said Dr. Ron Hirschl.

At U of M, doctors discovered the worst case scenario and dad began to realize his son might not come home again.

"The surgeons came out and this is far worse than what we had thought. His liver has torn away from his body and where those veins are is underneath his liver and when you pick up on the liver, it just bleeds more," said Jacob Bontekoe.

"One of the surgeon's nightmares is an injury to the vena cava behind the liver and that's what Max had," Hirschl said.

Your liver is the large blood filtering organ that sits just below the chest.  It surrounds a very large vein -- the vena cava.

Inside Max, his liver had been ripped away from his arteries and veins.  Blood was gushing and it couldn't be stopped.

Pediatric surgeon Hirschl knew he had to do something drastic.

"At one point we simply said the only way that Max is going to survive is to take the liver out.  By doing so, we could see the vena cava without the liver being in the way.  We could sew up the holes.  We could stop the bleeding, and then, also with the liver out of his body, we could fix those veins so that when we transplanted the liver back in, we reimplanted it, the veins would work."

The radical surgery was a success.  It took more than eight hours, 50 pints of blood, and a team of people pulling for the boy who seemed determined not to die.

"People that were going off shift stayed to help because they just wanted to see this young man live," said Hirschl.

However, the fight was far from over.  Max had to start life over again.

"Throughout the recovery process, just every week it would be something different.  His kidneys would shut down.  His lungs eventually shut down.  His adrenal glands and everything's being controlled by medicine, but somehow he pulled out of it amazingly enough," his father said.

Jacob was with his son night and day.  Days turned into weeks and weeks into months.  They celebrated any sign of recovery small or big such as Max's first steps.

Finally in February, six months after arriving at the hospital, Max went home again.

"What I've described to other people when they ask, it's better than if you won the lottery.  It's everything," dad said.

Now a year an a half after the collision, Max feels like a regular 13-year-old.

"I can run and jump now.  I can go up and down stairs well now.  I can walk just fine just about any distance," he said.

However, his doctor and so many others know there is nothing regular about him.

"It's a remarkable case, one that I will remember for the rest of my life," said Hirschl.

Max's case is definitely one for the medical journals.  Worldwide, he is the only known survivor of this procedure in which the liver is removed, fixed and then put back in place.

Click here if you'd like to see more the emotional videos that Max's dad made of his recovery.

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