It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: finding out that their sweet, innocent baby is in the midst of a health crisis. That’s exactly what happened to George and Farra Rosko when their two-month-old daughter, Talia, received an unexpected diagnosis in late 2015.
The odds were stacked against Talia too. Her condition would only worsen as she got older, reducing her chances of survival past the age of two. There was nothing her doctors or her parents could do to help her either. That is, until Talia’s babysitter stunned everyone with an idea of her own.
When Talia was born in 2015, she joined two older siblings, Mattea, 7, and Trey, 5, and her parents at their home in Jackson, New Jersey. As most parents do, George and Farra took their new baby to see the pediatrician at nine weeks old to check on their daughter’s development. The doctor saw Talia’s eyes “were off,” according to the Washington Post, and suggested a visit to a specialist for more tests.
The specialist examined Talia and conducted a liver biopsy, likely alerting the parents that their daughter’s irregular eyes had a potentially serious underlying cause. Still, the Roskos could never have suspected their youngest child had come into the world with biliary atresia, a condition that affects very few newborns. “There’s about 200 kids a year born with it,” Talia’s dad told CBS New York.
The ultra-rare condition attacks the liver, causing the central bile duct to be destroyed. With this outlet blocked, bile begins to build up inside of the liver instead of flowing into the gall bladder. This causes cellular damage and can make a liver fail, posing a threat to life.
By the time the specialist had diagnosed Talia’s condition, the bile build-up had destroyed the two-month-old’s liver. She had a temporary treatment option, called a Kasai, during which surgeons would remove her destroyed ducts and gallbladder. A tiny piece of Talia’s small intestine would be used instead of them.
But the Kasai wouldn’t last forever – Talia would need a liver transplant to survive past her second birthday. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia added Talia to a national database called the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which could match the infant with a deceased donor’s liver, should one have become available.
The family struggled with their inability to do anything but hope for a donor match to appear, since neither of the baby’s parents were matches for donation. “We’ve been in limbo, I would say, since we found out she needed the transplant,” George told CBS New York. “Every day, we’re wondering, waiting.”
Still, George and Farra took a patient approach rather than petitioning friends and family for help. “We were never ‘looking’ for an organ donor, and we would never ask anyone if they wanted to donate, especially someone we didn’t know that well,” they told TODAY.
Talia still hadn’t matched with a donor by the time she was nine months old. At that point, it was June of 2016, and the family needed more than just a liver for their youngest daughter. They needed a nanny to look after all three of their children for the summer too.
A mutual friend connected 22-year-old Kiersten Miles with the Roskos. She instantly connected with their youngest daughter, whose bubbly personality stood out to the college student. “Talia is probably one of the happiest babies I’ve ever watched,” Miles told the Washington Post. “She is just such a gentle baby.”
Despite her cheerful demeanor, there was no hiding the fact that Talia was unwell. One of the side effects of biliary atresia is jaundice, which left the baby’s skin with a yellow twinge; the whites of her eyes were a grayish color too. Miles was informed that Talia had liver disease right away, and she soon learned how severe the condition was.
After discovering Talia’s need for a transplant, Miles couldn’t stifle her curiosity about organ donation. When she was off the job, she started research into becoming a living organ donor. As the name implies, living organ donation takes place when someone donates an organ while still alive. Most people who become living donors donate a kidney, though it’s possible to transplant part of a living donor’s liver too.
With that, Miles couldn’t get the idea out of her head, especially after realizing that her blood type, O, made her a “universal donor.” Blood type is vital in organ donation, and those with O blood can donate to a person with any other blood type. In other words, Miles could easily have been a match for Talia – and there was only one way to find out for sure.
First though, Miles had to run the idea by Talia’s family. “I was nervous for some reason – I’m not sure why,” Miles recalled. “I just told [Talia’s mom] I had done some research, and I wanted to fill out the paperwork to see if I was a match.” She was a bit taken aback by Farra’s response. “This is a serious thing,” Rosko remembered telling her nanny. “This is not like donating blood.”
Miles had already considered the severity of the procedure. She talked it over with her own mother before even discussing it with Rosko, and the two agreed it was worth it. “It’s just such a small sacrifice when you compare it to saving a life,” Miles told WTXF. “Especially for a baby who can’t really ask for help,” she added to the Washington Post.
With that, Miles began a six-month testing period to make sure she was indeed a viable donor for young Talia. After a half-year, doctors finally gave the procedure the green light and first operated on the nanny at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. After removing part of her liver, they brought it to Talia at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where she too went into surgery.
Once a transplant is made, it doesn’t always mean smooth sailing for the recipient. Sometimes, the body can reject its new organ, so doctors kept a close eye on young Talia. What they saw though, was the same happy, bubbly baby that stole Miles’ heart. The nanny remembered watching as Talia “was sitting up, crawling and wanting to walk in no time,” she told the Washington Post. Talia’s family described their nanny’s reunion with their daughter as “magical.” They said, “Everybody was just so taken aback by her generosity.”
For Miles, though, the reunion “just reminded [her] why [she] did it at all.” She told WTXF, “All I had to do was be in the hospital for a week and a five-inch scar. I don’t know, it just seemed like such a small sacrifice to me.” More importantly, she and Talia recovered remarkably well post-op. The baby left the hospital less than two weeks after the transplant, though she’ll also sport a scar, just like her donor. The only foreseeable side effect for Miles is that she can’t donate any part of her liver in the future. And that’s even if she’s “a 100 percent match,” as she told Fox News. “You can only donate once,” she said. As for Talia, her mom told the Washington Post that she’ll be weaned off of her medications. She will though have to take anti-organ rejection prescriptions for her entire life.
Farra couldn’t say enough good things about Miles. “I don’t know where we’d be without Kiersten,” she said. “I think people need to know that… angels do exist and miracles happen every day.” Others have been moved by her selflessness. A YouCaring page has racked up more than $4,000 in donations for the nanny and college student’s education costs. And, in 2017, Miles was a finalist for the Russ Berrie Making a Difference Award for her donation. She brought none other than baby Talia onstage with her to accept the award certificate.