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5-year-old girl gets life-changing liver transplant

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ATLANTA -

For 5-year-old Kate Service, a liver transplant surgery was her one chance of growing up healthy.

Kate Service has a type of metabolic liver disease that can be cured by a transplant. She was placed on the liver transplant waiting list back in May.

After months of waiting, William and Lisa Service finally got the call that a donor liver had been found for Kate. Her surgery was set for Oct. 3.

"It's both a relief and a different stress now. It's major surgery.  It's scary," said William Service.

Child Life Specialist Katie Pressley made sure Kate was ready.

"I want her to feel safe, and to a 5-year-old that means everything is familiar to her," said Pressley.

They practiced the next step.

"When I do this, I am very honored.  This is a very personal time for patients and families.  This is huge," Pressley said.

While Kate looks healthy, her liver has been failing since she was a baby.  Twice this year, she caught a bug and ended up in the ICU with acute liver failure. She bounced back, but Children's Liver Specialist Dr. Saul Karpen worries the next time, she may not. That's why Kate needed the transplant.

"It's not experimental, not for 20 years, and the outcome in kids is just extraordinary," Karpen said.

Just before 5 a.m. Kate -- clutching her toy giraffe "Spots" -- was carried into the operating room, where her liver was waiting.

Things moved quickly once Kate was under anesthesia.  It took only an hour for transplant surgeon Dr. Joseph Magliocca and his team to detach and take out her failing liver.

Dr. Magliocca said Kate's new liver looks and feels healthy, and it's a perfect size for her.

In four hours, it was over. Kate and Spots were reunited.

Outside a flag announced, "An organ transplant is saving the life of a child today."

Three weeks later, back home, Kate tried on her Halloween costume -- a peacock.  She couldn't go door to door, so the candy came to her.

"I'm going to stay at the house and let people just to our house and give treats to me," Kate said.

The Services don't know -- and may never know -- where Kate's liver came from or why another family made this hard choice.

"I just want to say, thank you is not enough.  But, thank you," William Service said.

Kate has been hospitalized once since her surgery, but is home again, and doing well. She'll have to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life.

On Wednesday, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta will celebrate its 400th pediatric liver transplant.

Click here to view pictures from Kate's surgery.

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