Alpha Stories

Published on Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Celebrating women: Alpha-1 Mom Kate Mullen & Donor Sarah McKitterick

Celebrating women:  Alpha-1 Mom Kate Mullen & Donor Sarah McKitterick

During Women’s History Month, we are featuring the stories of women who help make the Alpha–1 community great.

Finn O’Sullivan of New York is known to many now as “Finn the Mighty Warrior." At 8 weeks of age, following a liver biopsy and a trip to Boston Children’s Hospital, Finn was diagnosed with the rare liver disease, biliary atresia. Within 24 hours, his parents were given the additional diagnosis of Alpha–1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (Alpha–1).

Mullen with newborn Finn

To have both conditions is so rare that physicians at Boston Children’s doubted the first diagnosis and scheduled an exploratory surgery to rule it out. However, the surgery revealed he did indeed have both conditions—a true “lightning strikes twice” moment—and a situation that Boston Children’s had never seen before.

“The physicians said, ‘we are often humbled by medicine, and this is clearly one of those times,’” explains Kate Mullen, Finn’s mom. When Kate was pregnant, she and her husband John were screened for over 250 genetic conditions; sadly, Alpha–1 was NOT one of them.

Within a few months, after returning home to New York, it became apparent that one or both of his rare conditions were causing Finn’s symptoms—severe jaundice, slowed growth, extreme fluid retention—to continue without relief. He needed a new liver. His parents decided to put him on the liver transplant list in Boston and New York.

However, the physicians at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital at New York Presbyterian strongly believed the best option for Finn would be to receive a “living liver donation”—meaning a partial liver sample from a living donor would be transplanted into Finn.

While they remained on liver donation lists in two regions of the country, family, friends and friends of friends began to step forward to be tested as potential living liver donors for Finn. Unfortunately, Kate and John were not matches.

That’s when the gift that would change Finn’s life forever was discovered and not with just a close friend, but his own godmother, Kate’s lifelong friend and maid of honor.

Sarah McKitrick and Finn

When she was first tested, though she didn’t know her own blood type, Sarah McKitterick just knew she would be Finn’s liver donor match. “I think once she found out her blood type was correct, she willed herself to be the one,” Kate says.

Donor Sarah McKitterick with Finn

On April 18, Finn, just before turning 8 months old, received part of Sarah’s liver—a gift better than any Disney fairy godmother ever considered.

“She is a very humble person, very low key,” Kate describes Sarah. “She doesn’t understand that 99% of the country would see this as a massive sacrifice.”

“There are not many days that go by that it doesn’t hit me hard and humble me to tears. It was such a selfless act,” Kate continues. “I don’t think even a lifetime will be enough to fully process it.”

Today, Finn continues to recover at home—facing the new challenges of being isolated and limited while on immunosuppressant drugs.

“We are so thankful for our amazing team and the progress Finn has made in the last three months. He is truly a miracle.”

This story appears in the Fall 2017 issue of Alpha–1-To-One Magazine. Subscriptions are free.

Follow the Mullen Family's journey on Facebook.