Colson’s Second Chance: Texas Children’s Hospital Celebrates 1500th Organ Transplant

When he was eight years old, Colson McCullough was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), an often painful, chronic liver disease that damages the bile ducts and can sometimes lead to liver failure. In 2017, he was transferred to Houston to get his second chance at life through a liver transplant, becoming the 1500th successful transplant patient at Texas Children’s Hospital.    

At a celebration to honor this milestone, Colson thanked his surgeons and care team members. “When I was little, I loved superheroes,” he said. “Today, I know who the real superheroes are, and they’re you.” 

Recently, Colson had the opportunity to catch up with Dr. John A. Goss, Medical Director of Transplant Services at Texas Children’s Hospital and the surgeon who performed Colson’s transplant.

“It’s very fulfilling to take care of patients like Colson,” said Dr. Goss. “It’s also very humbling to be a part of their life story. Seeing Colson, who received a transplant as a teenager and who is now employed and very successful, is just so wonderful. We have the biggest pediatric transplant center in America and we’re honored to make a life-changing difference for so many patients.”

To date, Texas Children’s has successfully performed more than 2,100 solid organ transplants. In 2022 alone, 99 transplants were performed, outpacing all other pediatric hospitals in the nation by more than 20 complex surgeries. 

Colson is now 24 years old. Having graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas, he is a financial analyst and he is engaged to the love of his life. 

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A challenging diagnosis

Before his diagnosis, Colson was a healthy, active child who played football, basketball and softball. His first symptoms seemed mild — odd aches and pains. “I would get stomach aches and headaches and I wasn’t really sure what was going on,” said Colson. But his symptoms worsened and, eventually, Colson was diagnosed with PSC. The only cure is a transplant; without one, patients can end up with potentially life-threatening carcinoma. 

"You can have PCS for a number of years before people figure it out,” explained Dr. Goss. “One of the things that it's associated with is a condition called ulcerative colitis, so that's often how it's picked up. Many times, people will be diagnosed with ulcerative colitis first; then, they might have a slightly abnormal alkaline phosphatase or liver lab test. The diagnosis is confirmed with imaging of the bile duct and a biopsy, which shows a certain very characteristic finding on the biopsy of this fibrotic tissue around the bile ducts.”

Colson is grateful that his pediatrician caught his symptoms when he was still young, at an early stage of PCS. Although he managed his symptoms and lived with the disease for several years, it finally caught up to him when he was 16 years old. “My body just started to break down at that point,” Colson said.  

PSC can be dormant and flare up periodically. Often it will flare up with IBD, indicating that both are working in tandem. This happened to Colson and his symptoms were so bad that his family would travel every few months to see his doctors in Houston until he received his transplant. 

Transplant List

Colson was put on the transplant list in 2015 and had to wait two years before a compatible donor organ was available. During this time, he underwent pharmaceutical adjustments and prepared for the surgery. The liver is the only human organ that can regenerate and many patients can receive a partial organ transplant. In PSC, the bile duct itself is attacked, and Colson’s liver was in very bad shape, so he needed a whole organ transplant.

Colson said there was almost an immediate difference in how he felt after he received his new liver. He returned home several weeks ahead of schedule. Over the next three to six months, he quickly returned to a healthy, everyday life and started playing basketball and softball again. 

Reflecting on his life today, Colson says, “I feel excellent, and I think going through something like this when you’re younger gives you a different perspective on getting out of bed every morning and just feeling great.”

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Deep gratitude

Colson is also deeply and forever grateful for his donor and for the selflessness of the donor family“I like to think we’re going to live forever, but the reality is that we don’t. You can make a difference by being an organ donor. I would encourage everyone to consider that,” said Colson. 

With a second chance at life, now Colson is getting ready to embark on the dream of his life – getting married in November. 

Learn more about Transplant Services at Texas Children’s Hospital.

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