Exactly four people have told 15-year-old David that he should run for president.
"My mom, my second grade teacher, someone who works at the blood bank, and of course, Dr. Charina Ramirez," he says, referring to the pediatric gastroenterologist at Children's Health℠ he's seen since he was a baby.
David is an extremely bright high school sophomore. He doesn't have a favorite subject because he sees value in all of them — though he's best at math and loves history because it provides context to understand the world. Fluent in English and Spanish, he even won a national essay contest about the importance of being bilingual last year.
"David has no limitations, he's just like any other child," says his mom Angelica, who speaks Spanish and shared her story through a translator. "But if it weren't for God and Children's Health, David wouldn't be here today."
Expert and compassionate care early in life
Angelica knew something was wrong with her newborn baby. He was sleeping too much and his skin and eyes looked yellow (a condition called jaundice). She took him to the pediatrician, who did blood tests right away.
"As soon as they got the results, they knew something was very wrong with his liver," Angelica says. "They had already called Children's Health and told us they were the best and most knowledgeable in this area."
The family rushed to the Emergency Department at Children's Health. They quickly brought in a translator who stayed by Angelica and her husband, Jorge's, side to make sure they understood everything that was going on.
They gently explained that David's bile ducts, which allow bile to go from the liver and gallbladder into the intestine to help digest the fats in the food. Either something was blocking his bile ducts, or they hadn't formed properly in the womb. They needed to do surgery to find out.
"From there, everything happened so fast," Angelica says. "By the next day, we had already met the care team, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist and everyone who was going to be taking care of our son."
The minutes passed slowly during the seven-hour surgery. Finally, the surgeon came to the waiting room. He said three words: All is good. Angelica and Jorge breathed a sigh of relief.
Then the surgeon got into the details: They found out that David had a condition called biliary atresia, which happens when the bile ducts do not develop normally while a baby is in the womb. His surgeons then performed the Kasai procedure, which connects a section of the small intestine to the liver and helps bile to flow from the liver into the small intestine.
A looming deadline of a liver transplant
Like many parents faced with a scary diagnosis, Angelica feared that she'd done something wrong, and that's why David had a liver problem.
"We felt much better after the doctor reassured us that only God knows why this happened to David, and there was nothing we could have done to prevent or cause it," Angelica says.
The care team also explained that for many patients, the Kasai procedure is only a temporary fix. Most children will eventually need a liver transplant to effectively filter toxins from their body. Angelica remembers seeing a 10-year-old girl at the hospital while David was recovering from his surgery.
"I remember thinking we had at least 10 years with David, which felt like forever looking at that little girl. But it also felt like a looming deadline," she says. "But so far we've been lucky. David has made it to 15 and hasn't needed a transplant."
A bright future for David
Angelica credits David's health to the expert ongoing care of Dr. Ramirez and his care team at Children's Health.
"We see her every few months and she monitors David so closely that she knows if he's had a cold just by looking at his labs," Angelica says. "We had to take David to the emergency room for an infection in 2015 and they kept asking me whether certain treatments were okay. I had so much confidence and wisdom in their knowledge and I told them that they had my full trust and to do whatever they needed to do to keep my son healthy."
David describes Dr. Ramirez as a lifeline who helps keep his health on track so biliary atresia doesn't get in his way. Instead, he spends his time hanging out with his friends, learning about maps, coding and writing comic books. An avid horseman, David spends many afternoons with his brothers learning how to train horses from their father – who David describes as an impactful role model. He likens his future to the Dr. Seuss poem "Oh the Places You'll Go," which teaches kids about seizing opportunities.
I may be the U.S. president. I might be a lawyer. I might be a scientist or a doctor. Dr. Ramirez encourages me to pursue gastroenterology. No one knows what I'm going to be or what I can do. But as long as I'm in good health, I will try my best to go everywhere I can go, so one day I can say: ‘Oh, the places I've been.'
"I may be the U.S. president. I might be a lawyer. I might be a scientist or a doctor. Dr. Ramirez encourages me to pursue gastroenterology," David says. "No one knows what I'm going to be or what I can do. But as long as I'm in good health, I will try my best to go everywhere I can go, so one day I can say: ‘Oh, the places I've been.'"
Children's Health is home to a team of pediatric specialists who diagnose and treat everything from newborn jaundice to biliary atresia and other complex liver conditions, such as metabolic liver disease, end stage liver disease and acute liver failure. Learn more about the Pediatric Liver (Hepatology) Disease Center at Children's Health.