What it takes to save the life of a complete stranger

Four days into her life, little Adriana became very ill. It was, among other things, her liver. Her desperate mother posted a plea on social media, asking for a living organ donor. Maybe someone out there would respond.

Adriana, left, 17 months old, Cairo, NY;  Nicole, right, 26 years old, Milford, PA

Medical tests revealed the culprit: biliary atresia, a rare pediatric disease that inflames the bile ducts, causing a toxic buildup of bile in the liver that eventually kills that organ. The alarming prognosis?

Her mother, Samantha, knew that if Adriana didn’t get a liver transplant, she might not make it to her first birthday. 

There was nothing Samantha wouldn’t do to heal her daughter, Adriana.

I prepared myself for the absolute worst, but I refused to prepare myself for the death of my child.

Samantha Gulla

Samantha took Adriana to the Montefiore Einstein Center for Transplantation, where doctors immediately put her on the wait-list for a deceased donor liver. But the list was long, and the clock was ticking. As weeks went by, Adriana’s liver grew hardened and enlarged. Her bones struggled to absorb vital nutrients, which stunted Adriana’s growth and caused hip dysplasia. The tiny four-month-old was placed in a body cast.

Samantha and her husband, Sal, were told they might have better luck finding a living organ donor in time to save their daughter. Neither parent was a match, however, so Samantha threw herself into the task of finding a donor for her daughter. 

Adriana’s big brother, Deklyn, gently plays with her for hours.

I posted Adriana’s story all over social media: about her trials, the ups, the downs—the blatant, honest truth of what we’d been through.

Samantha Gulla

Several hundred miles away in rural Pennsylvania, 26-year-old Nicole Killian and her fiancé, Kody, were hosting a barbeque. Samantha’s brother, Jake, was there. He told the couple about his critically ill niece and her desperate need for a liver donor.

Without hesitation, Nicole knew what she had to do.

Nicole’s a stay-at-home mom who lives life at full throttle.

I applied...it was just like a gut instinct. You have to at least try.

Nicole Killian

An exuberant character who rides dirt bikes and keeps pet chickens, Nicole lives her life at full throttle.

But when she learned that she was a donor match for Adriana, she pumped the brakes. 

I’ve never had surgery. I’ve never even broken a bone. So I was very nervous.

Nicole Killian

Even though Montefiore Einstein Center for Transplantation has one of the best survival rates in the country for living organ donors, Nicole was anxious. She had her own daughter, a one-year-old named Ella, to think about.

Yet, ultimately, it was because she was a mother that Nicole couldn’t turn her back on a child in need—even one she didn’t know.

Nicole’s family gave her the courage to help a stranger live.

As a mom, I was just like...I had to save that little baby.

Nicole Killian

Both surgeries went smoothly, performed by husband-wife transplant team Dr. Milan Kinkhabwala and Dr. Sarah Bellemare. Dr. Kinkhabwala took a small piece of Nicole’s liver, then

Dr. Bellemare had the more technical job of implanting it in Adriana. 

Sarah Bellemare, MD, FRCS

All this is more delicate in a baby, compared to when you do it in someone who’s bigger.

Dr. Sarah Bellemare

After the surgery, Nicole’s fiancé, Kody, bumped into Samantha and Sal outside the hospital. Only then did the couple realize that Nicole, who had chosen to remain anonymous, was the donor who’d saved Adriana’s life.

Nicole met Adriana for the first time after their surgery.

She saved our daughter’s life. She gave us the opportunity to watch our daughter become one fierce little girl in the world.

Samantha Gulla

A few days later, Nicole visited Adriana in her hospital room. 

It was the first time they’d ever met.

I saw Adriana, and then Sam…We were hugging, and we were both crying.

Nicole Killian

A year after the surgery, Nicole’s liver has completely regenerated. She’s busy training to be a vet tech and teaching Ella how to ride a dirt bike.

Adriana, meanwhile, is a fearless and feisty two-year-old with energy to burn.

She is a rambunctious, uncontrollable little girl. She loves to dance. She’s honestly a very happy-go-lucky girl.

Samantha Gulla

Become a living organ donor with a national leader in transplant 

There are currently hundreds of Montefiore-Einstein patients seeking the liver or kidney that could save their life. Their survival depends on the generosity of living organ donors like you.

Are you seeking a life-saving kidney or liver transplant?

Contact the Montefiore Einstein Center for Transplantation for more information at transplant@montefiore.org or call:

Living Organ Donor Kidney
1-877CUREKDNY (1-877-287-3536)

Living Organ Donor Liver
1-888RXLIVER (1-888-795-4837)