Saving Children’s Lives in Venezuela

FundaHigado Celebrates 10 Years of Providing Liver Transplants to Children in Venezuela

Plans to Expand Program to Other Countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean Through New Initiative FundaHigado America Foundation

Fashion Designer Carolina Herrera to Host Fundraiser in New York City on June 11

Dr. Tomoaki Kato, Carolina Herrera and Dr. Pedro Rivas-Vetencourt

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New York, N.Y.  (May 18, 2015) – Liver transplant programs have been curing pediatric patients in the United States for decades, with approximately 600 transplantations performed annually to save the lives of children with advanced liver disease.  However, in many parts of the world, liver transplants for children are unavailable.  Parents of children with advanced liver disease are left with only two heart-wrenching options, try to find a way to travel to the United States in hopes of receiving treatment, or watch their son or daughter die.

Just a decade ago, children with liver disease in Venezuela were among those that had no hope of treatment.  However, through the collaborative efforts of two liver transplant surgeons, one based in New York and the other in Venezuela, the
FundaHigado Foundation (Spanish term of “Liver Foundation”) was established in 2005 to develop a pediatric liver transplant program in that country.  Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, the FundaHigado program has enabled dozens of children to undergo successful liver transplants in their home country of Venezuela and to lead normal lives.  The first pediatric liver transplant in Venezuela was performed in 2005 on an 8-year-old girl with severe end-stage liver disease.  That young patient is now a teenager finishing high school.

While adult liver transplantation was available in Venezuela, there was a clear need for a pediatric liver transplant program.  A local hospital in Caracas, Policlinica Metropolitana, became the setting where on-site training for Venezuelan doctors and other health care personnel was provided, leading to the establishment of the FundaHigado Pediatric Liver Transplant Program there.  The transplants use living related donors, where a relative donates a small portion of his or her liver to the patient.  There has been one-year survival rate of 90%, for patients treated in the program, which is similar to the rate for pediatric liver transplant programs in the United States.  The program has been evaluated by the International Pediatric Transplant Association for its ethics, standards and value to the community, and was recognized as an Association approved outreach program.

Celebrating 10 years of providing life-saving liver transplants to children in Venezuela, the doctors incorporated FundaHigado America Foundation, a new 501(c)(3) organization in the United States. Its founders, Dr. Tomoaki Kato of Columbia University Medical Center in New York, and Dr. Pedro A. Rivas-Vetencourt, a U.S.-trained Venezuelan liver transplant surgeon, who lives and works in Caracas, plan to expand the successful program to other parts of Central America, South America and the Caribbean where pediatric liver transplants are currently not available.  The goal is to train health care professionals in their home countries to perform these highly complex procedures at hospitals in the region.  

Dr. Rivas-Vetencourt, says, “Our patients in Venezuela come from families without the means or ability to travel overseas to seek life-saving treatment for their children.  Nothing compares with seeing their joy when they get the news that their child can get a transplant in Venezuela.  We want to bring that joy and hope to parents in other parts of the region whose children are suffering from life-threatening liver disease.”

“Current data clearly demonstrates that liver transplantation is effective and appropriate for children with end-stage liver disease.  Doing our best to make it available to every child in need only seems just and fair.  Effective pediatric liver transplantation requires a highly-skilled team of physicians, surgeons, nurses, social workers and other healthcare personnel who have undergone specialized training. Our mission is to make that training available in the region,” explains Dr. Kato.

On June 11, 2015, the FundaHigado America Foundation will hold a fundraising event at The Glass Houses at Chelsea Art Tower (545 W. 25th Street) in New York City.  Hosted by Carolina Herrera, Dr. Tomoaki Kato and Dr. Pedro A. Rivas-Ventencourt, the event will help support the foundation’s efforts to bring life-saving liver transplants to children in Central America, South American and the Caribbean.

Carolina Herrera says, “It is tragic to know that the lives of young children have been cut short because there is no liver transplant program in their home country. I’m pleased that I have been able to help support this tremendous program.  No child should have to suffer because there is no liver transplant program in their country.  Dr. Rivas-Vetencourt and Dr. Kato built a wonderful program in Venezuela, and I hope they do the same in many other countries,” says Carolina Herrera, a member of the FundaHigado America board.  


Contact:  Bryan Dotson,

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