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Fundraiser in Bridgeville to help family after liver transplant

| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For Trib Total Media
Rachel Thomas, 3, of Cecil Township enjoys some play time with her father, John, during an outing to Cecil Township Municipal Park.

Less than three months after receiving a new liver, Rachel Thomas, 3, was playing on the swing set and picking up crabapples at Cecil Township Municipal Park.

Rachel's liver came from a familiar source, so to speak — her father, John.

John and Kristi Thomas of Cecil and their four children are members of Crossroads Church in Bridgeville as is friend Tawney Roddy, who is helping to organize a “Bash the Brownies and the Birdies!” fund raiser from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sept. 6 at the Chartiers Valley Shopping Center. The event is an effort to begin raising $30,000 to help defray transplant-related costs.

Fans can donate money for an opportunity to bash a Buick Skylark — painted in the colors of the Pittsburgh Steelers' rivals — with a sledgehammer. The afternoon also will include games for children and auctions of Steelers merchandise and game tickets.

John Thomas, 33, said a “black spot” was found through a sonogram before Rachel was born, and she was diagnosed with a choledochal cyst, which forms on bile ducts.

Rachel also was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a disorder in which bile does not properly flow. She underwent surgery in September 2011 to connect her liver and intestines, and then was diagnosed with portal hypertension, in which the liver does not allow blood to flow properly.

“They found her liver was full of cysts. Those kept acting as pockets and breeding grounds for the bacteria, and every time they put her on an antibiotic it would take care of it for a while” but the bacteria eventually became resistant to the antibiotic, he said.

“We went from ‘She's going to need a liver down the line at some point' to ‘She needs it and she needs it now.' ”

About a month later, Rachel was admitted to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. John Thomas went to UPMC Montefiore, and a liver transplant took place June 2.

Both were released after only nine days. Doctors had said to anticipate being in the hospital about a month, Kristi Thomas said.

To prepare for the transplant, John Thomas was tasked with losing a few pounds. “Apparently, it worked out well,” he said. One quarter of his liver was transplanted into Rachel.

Kristi Thomas said her daughter bounced back quickly. “As soon as she woke up in the pediatric intensive care unit, the first thing she tried to do was climb out of the crib,” she said. “Needless to say, we got kicked out of there really quickly.”

She said Rachel's recovery has gone well.

“The liver will regenerate. It will grow with her. It's a special organ that way,” Kristi Thomas said. “She's had no issues with rejection. She just improves constantly.”

John Thomas said his liver would grow back in two to three months. He's still sore at times, and coughing and sneezing previously hurt.

“Last week we ended up at Kennywood,” he said. “The Exterminator was a bad idea but otherwise, I'm mostly back to everything.”

David Mayernik Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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