As her mom holds 8-month-old Gabrielle's hands to help her balance, it's clear this toddler is eager to learn how to walk and – as she mimics her mom's encouragement – talk. But will she live long enough?
A liver condition diagnosed at birth is getting worse. "Essentially her liver is slowly dying, and it's taking her with it," says Gabrielle's mom, Charisse Pitre. Medications have slowed the disease, but the only real cure is a transplant. However finding a match is difficult.
There are two problems: First, more African-Americans suffer from conditions that require a transplant. For example, "African-Americans are more likely to be suffering from chronic kidney disease due to hypertension, diabetes and other kidney disorders," says Dr. Rene Romero, pediatric heptologist.
African-Americans represent 12.5 percent of the population but 25 percent of those needing a transplant. And often the best match comes from someone of the same race.
"There are certain what's called HLA antigens that are more represented within the minority population than in the majority population … and to have a better match in these types allows the organ to function better and last longer."
So patients like Gabrielle must wait. "It's absolutely agonizing, the anxiety level is indescribable," says Mrs. Pitre.
Experts say if anyone, of whatever race, is reluctant to sign on as a donor it may help to consider little children like Gabrielle.
"I never really thought about it, but now that I have a daughter who has a liver disease … I understand the urgency of the matter and the true need," says her father, Paul.
"There's no better way than in one's own death to continue life by giving a part of themselves to someone else," says Dr. Romero.