Dennis Jelly is a happy-go-lucky boy who enjoys and appreciates his life.
That’s because the eight-year-old had to have a life-saving liver transplant after he was born with a rare condition.
At the age of just nine weeks, he nearly died after he stopped breathing for seven minutes.
Now Dennis and his family are bidding to raise money to support the charity Children’s Liver Disease Foundation, which supported them through a very difficult time.
Dennis, from Landport in Portsmouth, was born with a liver condition called biliary atresia.
‘I thought something was wrong when he was two or three weeks old because he kept going yellow and getting more and more jaundiced,’ says mum Jo.
At hospital, medics ran some blood tests and everything snowballed from that point.
Later that same night, after Jo, now 27, had been told she could take Dennis home, she had a phone call asking her to bring him back in. He needed an operation straight away.
The operation, called a kasai, involved removing the blocked bile ducts and gallbladder and replacing them with a segment of Dennis’ own small intestine.
The procedure went well, but within just a few hours, things took a turn for the worse.
Dennis stopped breathing and died for around seven minutes, before doctors were able to bring him back and he was then transferred to intensive care.
It left him with brain damage and he now suffers from cerebral palsy.
‘It was very alarming when he was nine weeks old and I was told he had a liver disease,’ says Jo.
‘It’s really hard to describe. I had some very dark moments when I didn’t know how I was going to cope. I was only 18 when I had him.
‘Dealing with it is hard and very stressful. You never know what to do for the best.’
Dennis was discharged and a few months later they moved down to the south coast to be nearer Jo’s family, who lived in Southampton.
Dennis had to have regular check-ups to monitor how his liver was growing – which turned out to be much slower than other organs.
‘It was a scary time,’ Jo recalls.
‘He had to go and have a test. Everything was working within normal range.
‘But when he was about six he started to become very fatigued. He was very yellow. He ended up going part-time at school.’
He was lacking in red blood cells, so in February, 2015 he went for a blood transfusion – which changed everything.
The colour was back in his cheeks and his energy levels rose. He ended up needing transfusions every few months.
But in August 2015, disaster struck. Dennis woke up complaining that he felt sick and started vomiting blood. Dennis was suffering with portal hypertension, which is an increase in the blood pressure which had affected his spleen and caused him to lose around three pints of blood.
He was rushed to hospital.
‘In the ambulance, he asked me whether he was going to die,’ Jo recalls.
‘But by the time we got to the hospital he was cracking jokes with the nurses. They stabilised him, got some blood in him and got everything moving.’
Dennis was transferred to Kings College Hospital in London. Within days, they started the process to put him on the transplant list.
Jo adds: ‘He was in denial for a while saying that he didn’t need the surgery and didn’t want it.
‘But he was getting sicker and sicker and we were wondering if it was ever going to happen.’
But in May last year, the family finally got the call and Dennis underwent an eight-hour operation.
‘Everything went smoothly,’ Jo adds.
‘There was no rejection. It’s been nearly a year now. ‘
Jo says: ‘Dennis has so much more energy. He does a sports club and has swimming lessons once a week. It’s an amazing thing.
‘He has done so many things that just wouldn’t have happened before.’
Jo is optimistic about the future and encourages Dennis to be too.
‘We are trying to teach him that this is his second chance at life and he should live it the right way.
‘He should enjoy it and live the life that another person has given him.’
RAISING MONEY AND AWARENESS
Dennis’s mum, Jo, decided she wanted to do something to raise money and awareness.
So she has been supporting the charity Children’s Liver Disease Foundation by taking part in a slimathon.
Jo asked people to sponsor her to lose weight and she has managed to shed 21lbs.
Dennis’s school, Arundel Court Primary, raised £267 through a bake sale.
Jo also organised a 150-mile cycling challenge.
And last month she managed to get the Spinnaker Tower and Portsmouth Cathedral lit up yellow for the charity’s awareness day Big Yellow Friday.
‘It means a lot to me because they change lives,’ Jo says.
‘They are the ones funding research into cures and new treatments.
‘Their team are out there visiting hospitals and making sure that parents feel supported and have the right advice.
‘They can offer so much, but it’s only funded by donations - they aren’t government-funded.’
For more information on CLDF, visit childliverdisease.org.