She was only five months old, but little Jazlyn Camargo of Bridgeport, Ill., was in need of something far too few people are able to find: an organ transplant.
Jazlyn was diagnosed after her birth in April 2012 with biliary artresia, a rare, life-threatening liver condition that only affects about one out of every 18,000 infants. Five months later, doctors at the Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern Memorial Hospital confirmed Jazlyn would need a liver transplant – and soon – or face likely death.
Both of her parents were possible organ matches, but her father, Eduardo Camargo, insisted he undergo the surgery to save his daughter.
“Right away I said it had to be me and not my wife,” he told ABC News. “I have two other daughters, and they need a mother more than they need a father.”
But Camargo soon encountered a heart-breaking reality: Doctors discovered the 210-pound, 35-year-old man showed signs of fatty liver disease, indicated by having more than 10 percent fat in his liver. He could not safely serve as an organ donor unless he dropped body and liver fat.
So with the clock ticking, Camargo raced to lose the weight needed to save his baby daughter.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Camargo said he hadn’t worked out in years, not since high school, but he radically changed his diet to include more vegetables, modest portions and water. Then he hit the gym for intense workouts.
“I was weak in the knees, crying when I was running,” Camargo told the newspaper. “After work, I would go to the gym and I actually got up to running six miles an hour. Halfway through, I actually felt like I was going to vomit, but I would think of my daughter. In my head I would say, ‘Please God, let me help my daughter.’ And I would get watery eyes. I just kept going.”
In two months’ time, Camargo lost 30 pounds, but more importantly, his liver fat dropped to healthy levels, below two percent. He was cleared for the transplant.
And just in the nick of time.
The day before the scheduled surgery, baby Jazlyn began to vomit blood, a strong indicator her liver was failing. Any further delays and the little girl was likely to die.
Doctors at Northwestern the next day removed roughly 20 percent of her father’s liver and performed the transplant.
When the surgery was finished, Camargo wanted to see his daughter right way, pushing through the protests of the nurses. Doctors said he had to walk three laps around the hospital floor to prove he was healthy enough, so he walked 10.
“I had this adrenaline because I wanted to go see my daughter,” he told the Sun-Times. “So when I got to the room in a wheelchair, I got up and grabbed her hand. I said, ‘Thank you God, thank you God. Please help my daughter. You helped her this far. Let her go all the way.’”
Now, a year later, outside of the need for immunosuppressant medications, baby Jazlyn is considered as healthy as any normal 20-month-old. Doctors say Eduardo Camargo’s liver will regrow, and both have made a full recovery.
“To this day, every time I go to work, every day in the morning – my wife gets mad – I go bother [Jazlyn while she's sleeping]. I make sure she opens up her eyes and looks at me,” Camargo told the Sun-Times. “Once she opens up her eyes and looks at me, I go to work happy.”
“It’s a scary experience going through it, but the outcome pays off,” he added. “When you see your child running up and down, you know something good came out of it.”
Watch Camargo explain the experience and see Jazlyn today in the video below:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports over 28,000 people received organ transplants in 2012. Despite these statistics, there are more than enough people waiting for an organ to fill a large football stadium twice over, according to the DHS website. To learn how more about organ donation, click here.