November 29, 2021
Savana Calero weighed just under 2 pounds when she was born more than three months early. Her prematurity caused intestinal damage that led to her first surgery at 4 months old — the first of six she would undergo before her second birthday.
As gastrointestinal disease threatened Savana’s life, Mary Calero traveled with the youngest of her four children from their home in Morocco, Indiana, to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health for treatment. In May 2012 Riley Pediatric Transplant Surgeon Richard Mangus, M.D., gave Savana a new small bowel.
After Savana’s release from Riley, she and her mother were in a serious car accident, and the trauma caused Savana’s body to reject the transplant. In a second procedure in July 2013, Dr. Mangus performed a multi-organ transplant that involved her small intestine, stomach, liver and pancreas. Savana was 5 years old.
During her difficult recovery, she formed a special
friendship with Child Life Specialist Maggie Huffman, who was then new at Riley. “I learned so much from her,” Maggie says. She still treasures a storybook Savana made for her, including a page that reads, “My favorite part about the hospital is going to surgery because Maggie comes with me and we dance and sing together.”
Now 14, Savana still loves listening to music and dancing. Maggie says the spirit that helped Savana in her tough medical journey still shines in her: “She radiates joy and positivity and hope and resilience.”
As a complication of her anti-rejection medicines following the second transplant, Savana has been treated for four bouts of PTLD, a type of cancer. Currently in remission from PTLD and stable from her transplant, Savana returns to Riley as needed for ongoing care. “They’re right on point,” Mary says of her Riley care providers.
The Calero family shares their story to raise awareness of organ donation for one simple reason, she adds: “If it wasn’t for organ transplant, I wouldn’t have Savana here.”
Mary’s dream for her daughter is that Savana is “healthy and happy and able to do things that she wants to do.” For now, the eighth-grader at Rensselaer Central Middle School is just excited to be a Riley Champion.