Care at Phoenix Children's Hospital inspires transplant patient

PEORIA, AZ - Danielle Rodriguez, better known as DJ, is not your typical 16-year-old girl. This Centennial High School homecoming queen has been through quite a lot over the past couple of years.

"She had the liver of a 40-year-old alcoholic… at 16 years old," said DJ's mother, April Rodriguez.

This was a shock to the Rodriguez family, as DJ has never had a drink in her life.

They soon found out that DJ suffered from autoimmune hepatitis, a disease where her immune system attacked her liver. She needed to have a liver transplant.

"About 600 children in the United States need a liver transplant every year. And the wait list is very long. Sometimes patients don't make it to liver transplant and they die on the waiting list," said Dr. Miloh, the Director of the Liver Program at Phoenix Children's Hospital.

Painstaking months passed with no luck on the waiting list, so DJ's family decided to try and find a living donor.  With no immediate family members being a perfect match, they turned to April's best friend Nikki, who is also DJ's godmother.

"I said, 'I can't sit there if she's in surgery, of all the people I need you with me.' And she said, 'Yes but I need to do this,'" said April.

With a daughter and best friend in surgery, emotions ran high for April. She has been through quite a lot in her life -- a husband who battled cancer, a paraplegic father, and now this surgery.

DJ and Nikki successfully underwent the first liver transplant at Phoenix Children's Hospital.  Both are expected to make a full recovery.

"It meant a lot to think that they (hospital staff) actually care and that I'm not just another patient that they were taking care of, and they cared enough to come back to visit us," said DJ.

DJ is attending the University of Arizona in the fall in hopes of getting into the medical field and helping other kids that need help like she did.

"I think my proudest day will be when I get to take her to college, because two years ago we didn't know if that was going to happen. She's going to change the world. She's a pretty amazing kid," said April.

Help provide healing and hope for the kids at Phoenix Children's Hospital! Make a donation online or call in to our ABC15 Telethon TODAY now until 11 p.m.!

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