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Baby's transplant fails to materialize

Lauri Waldron and Richard Bailey thought the waiting had finally ended Thursday.

Waldron had just finished bathing her infant daughter in a St. Louis hospital when word came that a potential lung donor had been found and her child might get the lifesaving transplant.

A thousand miles away in Pinellas Park, Bailey booked a flight to St. Louis so he could be at his daughter's bedside.

By Thursday evening, details of the transplant were coming together. A surgeon was flown to an undisclosed East Coast city to retrieve the lungs of a 3-month-old baby who had died.

Bailey arrived in St. Louis about 7 p.m. and a few hours later he and Waldron were signing the necessary consent forms so doctors could transplant the lungs into their 7-week-old daughter, Autumn Karyn Bailey.

Then things fell apart.

The transplant had to be called off about 10:30 p.m. A last-minute legal ruling blocked the lungs from being harvested, said Dr. George Mallory, medical director of the lung transplant program at St. Louis Children's Hospital.

For reasons that hospital officials in St. Louis say aren't too clear, the attorney general in the donor's home state stopped the organ donation.

Mallory said he thinks it was blocked so an autopsy could be performed to further investigate how the child died.

News of the transplant's cancellation was devastating to Autumn's parents and doctors.

"We're trying to accept the fact we can't get that one but we'll look forward to another one," said her 32-year-old father, a detention corporal at the Pinellas County Jail. Waldron, 26, also works at the jail as a detention deputy.

Dashed hopes can be part of the risk when people wait for transplants.

"Transplantation is such a roller coaster ride," Mallory said.

Autumn, who suffers from a rare genetic lung disease, needs a transplant to live.

Doctors cannot say how long she'll survive without a transplant, but one doctor has said she is showing small signs of getting worse.

"It's a small decline but it just shows us we don't have an indefinite period of time we can wait for lungs," said Dr. Aaron Hamvas, director of the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.

Autumn is one of two Pinellas County babies at the St. Louis hospital. Both Autumn and 11-week-old Meagan Craig of Palm Harbor were diagnosed shortly after birth with a disorder called surfactant protein B deficiency.

Doctors have said it is a coincidence that two Pinellas babies would be diagnosed with the disorder when researchers have so far identified it in only about a dozen families around the world. Researchers first identified the gene defect last year.

Surfactant is a substance that lines the lungs and helps keep the air sacs inflated. Babies with the disorder have their air sacs fill up with a fatlike substance, which keeps oxygen from getting into the blood and causes the air sacs to collapse.

It's an inherited disease and most of its victims die within months of birth because they can't breathe without the help of machines.

A lung transplant is an infant's only chance at survival. Like Meagan, Autumn was flown to St. Louis Children's because the hospital has a national reputation for pediatric lung transplants.

Meagan had her transplant Feb. 21 and has so far had no complications. Doctors have said she continues to improve daily and is even breathing some on her own.

If all goes well this weekend, Meagan could be weaned completely from the machine helping her breathe, Hamvas said.

Meagan is the first infant diagnosed with this disorder to undergo a lung transplant. Besides Autumn, no other child diagnosed with the disease is thought to be alive.

Trying to put Thursday's failed attempt behind them, Autumn's father said there's nothing left to do but wait. "And the wait is the hard part," Bailey said.