Liver transplant

Quick illness led to quick liver transplant for Emreigh

Girl and mother holding a plate of food.
Liver transplant recipient Emreigh is a happy 3-year-old who loves watching Disney movies, coloring and playing with dolls.

In early March 2020, Julia Habelman was having the time of her life on her honeymoon in Las Vegas. But she returned to a nightmare: her 2-year-old daughter Emreigh Barsotti had become suddenly ill with liver failure.

Over the course of a week, Julia transitioned from being a happy newlywed to a terrified mother.

"I couldn't believe any of it, because it just seemed like it happened so fast," she said.

Emreigh was staying with her father during the honeymoon, and when Julia picked her up the little girl was severely jaundiced. They headed to the emergency room right away, and within a day, doctors told her Emreigh would need a liver transplant.

She was admitted to American Family Children's Hospital in Madison, where doctors ran a multitude of tests to determine whether they could treat her rapidly deteriorating condition. They wanted to do a biopsy of her liver but she was too sick, so they put her on the wait list for a new liver.

"Even after she was admitted to the hospital, Emreigh was playing and running around," Julia said. "She was thrilled when the child life specialists brought her toys. You never would have guessed she was dying. It wasn't until a few days later that you could tell she was tired and just wanted to snuggle."

Just five days after Emreigh was admitted to the hospital, Julia received a call that a liver had become available. She gratefully accepted the gift of life for her daughter, and a few days after her surgery, Emreigh was sitting up on her own and smiling.

"She was an ideal patient for sure," Julia said. "She was just loving life, regardless of her situation."

Emreigh stayed at American Family Children's Hospital for 31 days. During that time, she stayed in contact with her five siblings in Tomah, Wis., via video chats. When she returned home, friends in the family's community organized a drive-by parade to welcome her home, honking and holding balloons and signs for her to see.

Now, she's a happy 3-year-old who loves watching Disney movies, coloring and playing with dolls.

"She is really the best kid," Julia said. "And she loves everyone who cares for her whenever she comes to Madison."