Little Girl’s Drawings Express Boundless Joy and Gratitude

When Karol Cardenas, a sweet, spirited nine-year-old, received the donation of a liver from her father in March 2012, she turned to art to express her happiness and gratitude.

One look at Karol Cardenas’ drawing “Me and My New Liver”and it’s hard not to be struck by the strength, optimism and gratitude it conveys.  In the center of the drawing is a heart and in the heart is a little girl with curly brown hair (Karol) standing next to her father with the words “Thanks Dad” written in very careful script.

Anyone who knows Karol knows that this sweet, spirited nine-year-old has gone through more than most people do in a lifetime. Karol, the daughter of parents from Columbia, was born at Flushing General Hospital in Queens, NY.  Just moments after her birth, her pediatrician had to give her parents Carolina and Edison (Ed) very disturbing news.  Their infant daughter had biliary artesia, a rare, congenital disease of the liver that has no known cause and occurs in approximately one in 10,000 children.  The immediate tell-tale sign was baby Karol’s jaundiced eyes.

Despite her diagnosis, Karol thrived as a baby under the care of her pediatrician and progressed normally in her development. At one year of age, she came to Mount Sinai and was seen by doctors here every three to six months. Although the family’s use of the English language was limited, Mount Sinai used Spanish-language interpreters and Karol’s condition was followed uneventfully for seven years. It was during a routine visit in September 2011 that Karol’s doctor noticed she had very low oxygen saturation (low oxygen levels in the blood). Tests were done for hepatopulmonary syndrome, an uncommon conditions that occurs when liver disease has advanced to the lungs. Shortness of breath is one of the signs of the syndrome. Karol was diagnosed with hepatopulmonary syndrome in September 2011 and listed for liver transplant.

Her mother volunteered to donate a portion of her liver but she was not a match. Karol’s father did match, but he had a condition known as fatty liver and would have to diet in order to qualify as her donor. Diet he did, and in March 2012, Ed was able to donate a portion of his liver to his daughter.  

Today, Karol and her family revel in the simple pleasures of just being alive. Dr. Ronen Arnon, Medical Director, Pediatric Liver Disease and Liver Transplantation at the Recanati/Miller Transplantation Institute at Mount Sinai, beams at the mention of Karol and other children who have received transplants at Mount Sinai. He calls them “my heroes.”