Tabatha Foster is organ transplantation's endearing wonder child, the first person in the world to survive half a year with virtually all new insides.
And she's not just surviving, but making her presence felt.The 3 1/2-year-old recipient of a record-setting five transplant organs ignores doctors and nurses after they do something she dislikes, shows her displeasure by pitching her Pampers to the floor, and yanks out her intravenous tubes when her mother steps out of sight.
She throws tantrums when she's not lifted out of bed as soon as she demands and resists being undressed by stiffening her arms. She's not keen about trying different kinds of blended food and, when she does, always spits out the peas.
"She's been spoiled since the day she came into the world. A lot of her bad habits are going to have to be broken," said Tabatha's mother, Sandra Foster.
Still, Mrs. Foster and doctors agree that trait is "what's kept her, her spunk, her stubbornness."
The 36-pound pigtailed toddler from Madisonville, Ky., had most of her abdomen replaced in experimental surgery at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. In the 15-hour operation that ended Nov. 1, she received a new liver, small intestine and pancreas and parts of a stomach and colon.
Similar procedures had been performed only twice before in the world, both times unsuccessfully.
A multiple transplant has since been done at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago. The 10-month-old patient, Michael Steward of Rockford, Ill., is reported in good condition. He received a new liver, small intestine, pancreas and part of a stomach Feb. 9.
Despite her feistiness, Tabatha's recovery has been far from smooth. She's been beset during the past six months by a series of liver problems, a threatening virus and a mysterious three-hour lapse of consciousness.
Her latest setback, a buildup of bile in her liver, prompted doctors in mid-April to insert a drainage tube and downgrade her condition from fair to serious.
"As many small things go wrong, you have to be worried. But I think on the whole, these two cases certainly indicate the feasibility of the whole thing," said Dr. Thomas E. Starzl, director of transplant surgery at Children's Hospital and affiliated Presbyterian-University Hospital.
"They're cutting-edge cases, and I'm sure there will be more."