‘He Saved My Life’: Honoring a Pioneer Transplant Surgeon for 35 Years of Saving Lives

Jenny Tice, 34, makes sure to live each day to its fullest. She is a Bay Area native, works in finance in San Francisco, lives an active lifestyle, and volunteers. However, these milestones wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Carlos Esquivel, MD, chief of the Division of Transplantation at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health. He saved her life, twice.

“When I was 8 months old, I turned jaundiced and wasn’t gaining weight,” she says. “That’s when they found out that there was something wrong.”

Tice was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a rare disorder that affects tubes in the liver called bile ducts. It’s the most common reason for childhood liver failure and can be fatal without a transplant. Back in 1989, when Tice was born, liver transplants were almost never offered to children younger than 2. The procedure was often considered too risky or difficult.

A pioneer in the field

Dr. Esquivel was an early advocate for offering liver transplants to sick babies and children. His efforts have saved hundreds of people, including Tice, who is one of his oldest patients. At Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, he and his team have built a pediatric transplant program now recognized as one of the largest and most experienced in the world.

“He goes above and beyond the call of duty,” Tice says. “Knowing that this is really that person’s only chance, and he’s giving them that second chance—I feel like he holds that very sacred.”

But Tice didn’t know who the man was until 30 years later, when she was hospitalized as an adult at Stanford Health Care due to her condition. Her surgeon walked into the room and said, “Long time no see.”

When he fixes you, he has the biggest smile on his face, and I’ll never forget that. Your wins are his wins.

Jenny Tice, Dr. Esquivel’s Patient

It was Dr. Esquivel. The same man who had saved her life as a baby was there to save her liver once again with a bile duct surgery. She’s had the same liver for more than 30 years, which is much longer than the initial five-year estimate she was given.

Tice credits her success to the kind of care she received at Stanford Medicine.

“[Dr. Esquivel] does not want you to be in the hospital,” she recalls with tears in her eyes. “He does not want you to be sick. But, when he fixes you, he has the biggest smile on his face, and I’ll never forget that. Your wins are his wins.”

Because of her experience, Tice turned to activism. She now volunteers with a nonprofit that raises awareness about biliary atresia and aims to propel research, as there is no known cure or cause of the disorder.

“Life is precious and is something that needs to be celebrated,” she says. “My story is possible because someone said ‘yes’ to donation, so I celebrate this gift by sharing my experience in hopes that it will inspire other people and save lives.”

Honoring the man who gave them a second chance

At the end of 2022, Dr. Esquivel is stepping down from his role as division chief to focus more on research and improve patient care. Once Tice and other patients heard about this, they knew they wanted to do something to say “Thank you.”

Nearly 10 patient families gathered outside of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford to surprise him with a reunion celebration, honoring his 35 years of service. It started with presenting Dr. Esquivel with a flag, finger painted by his youngest patients. Then, there were speeches describing Dr. Esquivel’s impact on the field.

Reflecting on what it must have been like for him three decades ago, Tice had nothing but gratitude. “What do you say to somebody who saved your life? He’s so brave. It’s so brave to go into an operation that’s inherently riskier, and during a time when we didn’t even have cell phones or the imaging we have now. I have no words to describe how thankful I am for him.”

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