‘My best friend donated her liver to save my son’s life they have a special bond’

When scared and overwhelmed mum Lauren Beckett called her best friend, she needed a shoulder to cry on.

But that friend would give Lauren and her desperately sick son Tommy so much more – the gift of life.

Lauren was at the end of tether when she rang Kayleigh Taylor. Tiny Tommy had a rare disorder and would to die unless he got a new liver.

About 200 strangers had come ­forward, prepared to give part of their livers, yet none were a match. Then, selfless Kayleigh stepped up – and proved a match.

Lauren, 25, said: “When I found out she was the only suitable candidate, I knew it was meant to be.”

Lauren, who met mum-of-two Kayleigh, 34, through work, said: “All the years I have known her, she has never put herself first.”

Lauren and partner Callum Harknett, 22, both civil servants from Toddington, Beds, discovered they were having a baby early last year. And after a normal pregnancy, Tommy was born at Luton and Dunstable Hospital on October 31, weighing in at 5lb 13oz.

But 12 hours later, doctors noticed he was jaundiced, felt cold and had low blood sugar, so he was moved to the neonatal intensive care unit.

Two days later, Tommy was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital with a suspected twisted bowel. It became clear he had liver problems and he was moved again to King’s College Hospital in London.

Tommy was just two weeks old when doctors dropped the bombshell diagnosis that shattered his parents’ lives.

Their beloved boy had neonatal hemochromatosis – a condition causing excess iron in his liver and other parts of the body – and he would not survive without a new liver. The tot was put on an urgent transplant list.

Lauren said: “I felt numb and ­helpless. I remember thinking that if anything was to happen to Tommy, then I wouldn’t be able to go on.”

She said when they made the appeal for a liver donor, more than 200 people applied overnight – including family members, friends and Lauren’s 13-year-old cousin.

But no-one was suitable until Kayleigh, a payroll clerk, came to the rescue. She and Lauren met six years ago and have completed the Tough Mudder, an endurance event, and walked up mount Snowdon in North Wales together.

Lauren said: “We get on so well because we both love the simple things in life. I trust Kayleigh wholeheartedly and always will.”

Kayleigh has Gilbert’s syndrome, a mild liver condition which can cause jaundice, and initially had not come forward, fearing the condition would make her an unsuitable donor.

But that changed after a tearful chat with Lauren in November. Lauren said: “I wasn’t calling her to ask her to be a donor – I was just overwhelmed and scared, and I needed somebody to cry to.”

Kayleigh, of Clare, Suffolk, told gardener husband Gary, 44, and their kids Evie 11, and Zach, ten, she wanted to help. Early signs from a string of tests, CT and MRI scans showed she could be a match. She was put on standby awaiting full results.

But in December, Tommy’s condition deteriorated rapidly – and Kayleigh agreed to the transplant before the final results came back.

She said: “I was only scared for Tommy. I honestly never thought anything would happen to me. The odds were stacked against Tommy, I was terrified that he wouldn’t wake up.”

A week before the op, the tot was so weak he had to have his blood ­filtered. Doctors feared he would not be strong enough for a transplant.

On December 17, Kayleigh and Tommy had the surgery at King’s College Hospital. Lauren said: “I held Kayleigh’s hand on the way to theatre and there were lots of tears.

“She just kept saying, ‘Don’t worry about me, just worry about Tommy.’”

Doctors took part of her liver and cut it to fit into Tommy’s body. Lauren and Callum then had an agonising eight-hour wait for news of them both.

Five days after the surgery, Kayleigh was discharged. Tommy went from strength to strength and was allowed to go home on March 24.

He will remain on immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of his life so that his body doesn’t reject the liver.

Lauren said: “He’s doing amazingly and hitting milestones doctors didn’t think he would after being in a hospital bed for the first two months of his life.

“She saved him and I will never be able to thank her enough. I felt ­relieved, thankful, scared, speechless – every emotion possible.”

She added “Auntie Kayleigh” has an incredible connection with Tommy.

“It’s not something I have with my own children, it’s a totally different feeling, like an overwhelming need to protect him,” Kayleigh explained.

“People have said what I’ve done is amazing and Lauren and her family have been absolutely incredible. They don’t ever have to thank me. It’s just a relief knowing he’s OK now.

“He’s such a happy little thing and he’ll live a full life now, which is an amazing feeling.”

Stillbirths risk of rare illness
Neonatal hemochromatosis is a rare disorder in which excess iron accumulates in the liver and other areas while a baby is in the womb.

This build-up is toxic and can cause organ damage.

It is unclear how many children a year are affected by the condition.

In the most severe cases, neonatal hemochromatosis can result in stillbirth. The condition is often diagnosed in the early hours and days after a baby is born.

The symptoms include low blood sugar, swelling, abnormalities in blood clotting and a yellowing of the skin and eyes.

The serious condition is the most common cause of liver failure in newborns – as well as being the most usual reason for newborns to need a liver transplant.