The first thing you notice about Hudson Hill is his hair. He has a full, thick head of hair seen on few children. Then you notice his big eyes and expressive smile. But the tube running out of his nose quickly registers. And there, is of course, the hospital bed. Hudson is a patient at Seattle Children’s Hospital — a place he’s spent many days since his birth in October of 2016.
Hudson’s parents discovered 23 weeks into pregnancy that medical issues were ahead.
“We knew there was something abnormal, we’ll say unique about him,” said Hudson’s mother, Jordan Hill. “But we didn’t know the extent of it.”
At 2 weeks old, the most noticeable thing about Hudson became his coloring. His skin had a yellow tint, and then his eyes turned yellow. Doctors at Seattle Children’s discovered Hudson’s liver wasn’t draining bile.
“The liver makes bile, and the bile was accumulating and causing damage,” explained Dr. Andre Dick, the surgical director of kidney transplant at Children’s. “He progressed to end-stage liver disease and needed a liver transplant.”
Jordan Hill tearfully described the moment they discovered a transplant would be necessary. “No parent … it’s scary,” she said. “But we took a deep breath and did research. People with transplants, they’re able to live a normal life and do some of the milestones that you hope your child can do. So that was reassuring. And we went from fear, I think to hope.”
Hudson was low on the list for a deceased donor, so his best hope would come from a living donor. Dick said while liver transplants in children happen across the country every year, living donation happens just 13 percent of the time. Most often, the donor is a parent or sibling. But Jordan Hill couldn’t donate so soon after giving birth to Hudson, and dad Morgan Hill wasn’t a match.
But there was someone else in the family willing to step up.
“I have a pretty high threshold for pain,” Hudson’s uncle Trevor Hill said.
“He’s done extraordinary things, not just for our family but for our country,” Morgan hill said of his brother Trevor. Trevor Hill is a Green Beret — a lieutenant colonel in the Army Special Forces.
“I couldn’t be more proud that he’s a part of this situation, especially given what he’s gone through,” his brother added.
Trevor Hill has gone through war. He’s been deployed to combat zones five times. In one particularly harrowing experience in 2005, his Special Forces team was attacked.
“We rolled over, and two of the four people in my vehicle were killed instantly. I was trapped in the overturned vehicle, and it caught fire,” he said. He expected to die there. But other soldiers reached into the flaming wreckage to save him.
“Ever since then, I have survivor guilt from, you know, why did I survive and those two guys didn’t,” he said. “And I also have, these guys saved my life and what do I do to pay that back?”
Twelve years later, he paid that debt with a piece of his liver. A living liver transplant is one of the most complex operations, involving two surgical teams. Trevor Hill was at UW Medical Center, where doctors closely communicated with Hudson’s surgeon at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Martin Montenovo removed 15 percent of Trevor Hill’s liver. The small piece was unremarkable looking as it was bagged and boxed to make the trip to another surgical suite, two miles away. But it is life.
Sixteen hours after seeing Hudson wheeled into surgery, his parents were allowed back in his room. They could instantly tell the liver was working.
“He was pale,” his mother said. “He was whiter than we’d seen him probably since he was born.”
Trevor Hill knows better than most how precious life is. Around his wrist, he wears the names of 26 friends who died in service. Now, across his abdomen, he wears a scar that symbolizes a new beginning. Not just for Hudson, but for him, too.
“I think we’ll always have something special,” he said. “Maybe someday I’ll be able to have a cocktail with him, and my liver will be processing both of the drinks.”
Trevor Hill has been through war. And in his own way, so has Hudson. They both made it through and are now bound for life, by life.
“I like to think he’s going to have some extra toughness,” he said. “He’s going to be an impressive young man.”
“Trevor is a super hero,” said Montenovo. “A couple weeks ago he was in Afghanistan, and he came in just to be a living donor for his nephew. He did remarkably well. He was in the hospital for only four days.”
Montenovo said Trevor Hill’s liver would regenerate quickly “It would be ideal if we could have more living donors, because right now the waiting time here at the university for a liver transplant is between 12 and 15 months.”
“Giving someone a second chance at life, it’s the most amazing gift you could give anyone,” said Dick, who added that Hudson did quite well after transplant.
“He’s wanting to already start crawling and those milestones that he’s been held back from,” Jordan Hill said. “You can tell he’s eager to go ahead and do that.”
“While we can get frustrated and upset or anxious about what’s going on, Hudson’s the one going through this,” Morgan Hill added. “So when he looks up with those eyes and that smile, you just think, alright.”