- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2003

Joseph Ginese made medical history at Georgetown University Hospital earlier this month when he became one of youngest patients ever to undergo a small-intestine transplant — and the 5-year-old boy celebrated this week with something he’s been dreaming of for 14 months: a slice of pizza.

The youngster yesterday left the hospital, where he’d been recovering since the rare surgical procedure to replace his damaged intestine.

His parents call it a Christmas miracle.

One of the first things Joseph did was throw a pizza party in his hospital room. Now that he’s been released and the family is staying in a D.C. hotel, Joseph is already talking about having meatballs, his father said.

“He’s doing really great. He’s excited,” said Jay Ginese, Joseph’s father. “When they pulled that pizza out, he was in awe.”

Joseph, who makes sure people know he’s 5 “and a half,” was just starting to get his appetite back yesterday, Mr. Ginese said.

The family from Fishkill, N.Y., about 65 miles north of New York City, has reason to celebrate.

In October 2002, Joseph had symptoms that started like a stomach ache and he had to be rushed to the hospital.

After Joseph got very sick, he had his small intestine removed. Suffering from septic shock, the once-robust little boy was forced to live off a tube. The tube fed into a major vein in his neck for 16 hours a day — preventing Joseph from enjoying outdoor activities with his buddies and eating solid food.

That all changed Dec. 4, when doctors at Georgetown replaced his intestine with a healthy intestine from a young donor.

“His condition was very serious. … He hadn’t eaten in about a year-and-a-half,” said Dr. Thomas Fishbein, who led the six-hour surgical effort.

Joseph’s condition, called malrotation and volvulus, is a congenital defect and cuts off the blood supply to the small intestine, which twists, causing blockage and infection.

Often patients with this condition are put on a morphine drip “and left to die,” said Dr. Fishbein, who is Georgetown’s director of intestinal transplantation.

He said many doctors don’t know intestine-transplant surgery is an option. “Kids die all the time because doctors don’t know they can get a transplant,” he said.

Joseph’s parents said they are deeply grateful to the Texas family that donated the vital organ.

“I appreciate it so much,” Jay Ginese said. “It’s remarkable strength to donate your child’s organs on the worst day of your life.”

Dr. Fishbein called it “critically important” that more people learn that organ donation can save lives. He said the boy waited “patiently and stoically” for the organ that has changed his life. He said there’s a shortage of transplant organs for the 20 to 25 patients at the hospital waiting for the operation.

Pediatric transplants, according to the surgeon, are more complicated because organs must match size as well as blood type.

Joseph’s chances of keeping the new intestine are good, and he should be able to enjoy a normal life with regular checkups, the doctor said. He will be required to take medication for the rest of his life and must stick to a special diet that includes foods such as baked French fries and no-cheese pizza.

“It’s absolutely a miracle. I can’t believe we’re actually out of the hospital,” said Joseph’s mom, Erin Ginese. “He’s a strong, brave guy.” Joseph is looking forward to a visit from his 15-month old brother, Justin.

Spending the holidays in the hospital was nothing new for the Ginese family, who spent many nights in emergency rooms worrying if Joseph would make it and waiting for a donor. This time around, the parents were watching their son recover with a chance for a new life.

Mr. Ginese said he’s grateful for the donor, a Texas boy killed in an accident, and thanked the boy’s parents for their kindness during a trying time.

Heather O’Rourke, the young actress who starred in the “Poltergeist” films, died of septic shock in 1998 after suffering from a similar disorder.


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