Carbondale native and daughter will be permanently linked by liver transplant |

Carbondale native and daughter will be permanently linked by liver transplant

Carla Jean Whitley
Claire, Justin, Peri and Shay Erickson enjoyed a restful weekend in Denver before Claire and Peri undergo surgery Tuesday. Claire, a Carbondale native, will donate part of her liver to her daughter.
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An Italian dinner and silent auction to benefit the Ericksons is scheduled for 5-8 p.m. May 6 at The Orchard in Carbondale. Admission is free, and donations will be accepted.

Claire Griffith Erickson will undergo her first major surgery Tuesday at the University of Colorado hospital Tuesday. But Erickson’s mind isn’t on her own procedure; it’s on her daughter.

The surgery will remove the left lobe of Erickson’s liver, which the hospital will then transport two blocks to Children’s Hospital Colorado. Peri, Erickson’s 3-year-old daughter, will be waiting.

Peri was born with biliary atresia, which affects the liver and bile ducts. The disease is often accompanied by life-threatening complications and may eventually lead to cirrhosis. When Erickson, a Carbondale native, learned in February that she was able to serve as her daughter’s donor, she was ready to move forward.

“Physical pain is such a small, small part of her own journey,” Erickson said. “So for me to undergo that, this is going to change her entire life.”

“Physical pain is such a small, small part of her own journey. So for me to undergo that, this is going to change her entire life.”Claire Erickson

Unlike her mom, Peri is a surgery veteran. At 24 days old, the child underwent a procedure that attached her small intestine directly to her liver. Complications remain even after that successful surgery. Peri isn’t able to absorb fats or fat-soluble vitamins easily, and so she must consume a specialized formula that isn’t covered by the family’s medical insurance. Esophageal varices can lead to internal bleeding, which can be fatal.

The past year has seen the family, who live in Red Lodge, Montana, frequently on the road to Denver. Complications have also resulted in Life Flight trips to the hospital. Erickson said she always knew a transplant was likely. Doctors evaluated Peri in January, but she was not high on the waiting list. In February, Erickson’s own evaluation proved she was a match for her daughter.

“We’re just ready for it. It’s been all really positive,” Erickson said. “It’s scary because the outcomes aren’t certain, but the outcomes are likely positive. We feel really blessed that we live in an area, a place and a time where we can do the transplant.”

The family spent the weekend in Denver with a zoo trip on the to-do list.

“We’re trying to relax and rest up a little bit,” Erickson said.

Come Monday night, though, work begins. Peri will check in to Children’s Hospital Colorado, and Erickson and her husband, Justin, will spend the night there. When her alarm rings at 5:15 a.m. Tuesday, Erickson will walk the two blocks to the University of Colorado hospital and prepare for surgery. Her operation will begin at 7:30 a.m. and should last six or seven hours. Once the liver material is harvested, Peri’s eight- to 12-hour operation will begin.

Erickson will remain in the hospital for five to seven days so doctors are able to manage her pain and restrict her from lifting things. Her complete recovery should take eight weeks. Peri’s recovery will be longer, with two to six weeks expected in the hospital and as much as four months in Colorado, total. They’ll stick around Denver at first so doctors can ensure Peri’s medications are dialed in. But once doctors give the OK, the Ericksons will be Carbondale bound.

Erickson hopes that will be in time for the May 6 hometown fundraiser longtime friend Julia Donohue is planning. Peri’s father and her 5-year-old brother, Shay, will join them. In addition to medical bills and related expenses, like Peri’s formula, Denver hospital trips mean the family has faced significant travel bills. Erickson has also taken time off work in order to serve as her daughter’s donors.

Montana friends set up a GoFundMe page, which raised more than $17,000 of its $30,000 goal as of Friday afternoon. But expenses remain — and Erickson said both her Montana and hometown communities have been supportive.

“It’s incredible. Financially is one thing, but having them as a moral and emotional support is almost more important,” she said.

Erickson moved from the valley several years ago, but family remains.

“Her parents are still here, she grew up here. So we’re all like sisters,” Donohue said.

Donohue, her older sister Elissa Nye and Erickson’s mother Ramona Griffith have planned an Italian dinner and silent auction. The free event will rely on the auction and donations to help the Ericksons. Donohue said the community has been quick to offer auction items and rally to help.

“We know so many people in Carbondale that have been there forever — the ranchers and the farmers and the new people who have moved in,” Donohue said. “It’s good to see that we’re able to come together to help this family.”

Likewise, Erickson sees a silver lining.

“We look at this situation like we don’t have it as bad as we could be. Peri seems like a normal little girl. She’s really smart, she’s always running around,” Erickson said. “It’s perspective when you see other kids who are really, really sick. And she is, but in a different way.”

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