It’s a time for fresh starts for many area schoolchildren, but for 10-year-old AJ Koller of Brookeville, this school year marks another new beginning, as he prepares for a liver transplant.
On Monday, AJ started fifth grade at Belmont Elementary in Olney, and proudly fulfilled his duties as a school safety patrol.
“He was very excited about his first day and being a patrol,” said his mother, Melanie Koller.
It was important to AJ to start school with his classmates, even though he will miss a significant portion of the semester.
AJ was born with Alagille syndrome, a multi-organ disorder that primarily affects his heart and liver. He has endured several open-heart surgeries since birth, in addition to countless other medical procedures.
His family learned last week that AJ has been approved for a liver transplant, scheduled for Tuesday.
Koller said the donor wishes to remain anonymous, but it is someone the family knows and who lives in the community.
“He is happy to do this for AJ, and we are very grateful to him,” she said.
Koller, a teacher at St. John’s Episcopal School in Olney, said the family wasn’t sure if AJ would ever be cleared for a transplant, due to his heart problems.
After his heart issues were stabilized, AJ was originally scheduled for the liver transplant in August, but he had a setback in July, when he broke his leg.
“Because of his liver disease, there were complications, and his leg had to be surgically repaired,” Koller said. “He was in the hospital for three weeks.”
AJ is not looking forward to another hospital stay.
“He doesn’t want to go back to the hospital, since all the prodding and pokes are still very fresh in his mind,” she said. “He doesn’t quite understand the magnitude of this.”
Koller said she often talks to AJ about the complications from his liver disease, which include jaundice, itching, a protruding stomach, not growing and having to be tube-fed.
“We tell him with his new liver, he will no longer have those things,” she said.
AJ will likely remain in the hospital for two to four weeks, and will then likely be homeschooled.
Although his is a complex case, Koller said he has a fabulous team of handpicked physicians at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where the transplant will be performed.
She said her emotions run the gamut.
“I am excited that he could potentially lead a normal, healthy life, but am also scared to death that something could happen,” she said. “It’s all very overwhelming.”
To follow AJ’s story, go to caringbridge.org/md/aj.