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Phoenix girl receives milestone liver transplant

Danielle Rodriguez, seated, is the first person in over 20 years to receive a pediatric liver transplant in Phoenix. (Bob McClay/KTAR)

PHOENIX -- A 17-year-old Valley girl has received an early Christmas present.

On Dec. 6, Centennial High School senior Danielle Rodriguez became the first person in over 20 years to receive a pediatric liver transplant in Phoenix.

What's made it even more special is that her transplant came from a 35-year-old woman who is still alive.

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale removed part of the liver of Danielle's godmother, who Rodriguez only identified as "Nikki." Doctors then transported the donation to Phoenix Children's Hospital, where it was implanted into Rodriguez.

"It was scary at first," said Rodriguez. "But I did have a good team with the doctors looking out for me and a good support group. I wasn't as scared as I thought I was going to be on the day of surgery. I just knew I was in good hands here at PCH."

Some of that support has come from her fellow students at Centennial High, who voted Rodriguez as this year's homecoming queen.

Both patients are doing fine, and doctors said their livers will regenerate in about three weeks. Both have been released from the hospital. Nikki has returned home to Oklahoma.

Doctors said Rodriguez should live a normal life, and she hopes to resume running cross country. She was a member of Centennial's team before the illness struck.

Rodriguez had been battling liver disease for nearly two years.

"Some days I would wake up and I was fine," she said. "Then, the next day, I would wake up and couldn't move, was in pain, or I just didn't feel good and would have to stay home from school."

Rodriguez said she's greatfull to her godmother, who has helped to raise her since she was two.

Rodriguez is looking forward to graduating this year. She plans to go on to college, where she hopes to earn a nursing degree. She plans to return to PCH someday, working as a nurse.

About the Author

Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I am married to my wife Rene', who is a librarian in the Washington school district. During free time, I may be found playing basketball in the driveway with my son, Devin. He's also keeping me busy with school, Little League, and playing in chess tournaments around the Valley.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: Doug Oldham gospel concert in the 1970s at the old East High School in Phoenix.

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Northern Hills Community Church in Phoenix. We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.


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