Children's makes history by "tweeting" from transplant surgery

November 03, 2010

Children's and UT Southwestern made history by becoming the first hospitals to post Twitter updates in real time from a transplant surgery. Representatives from the public relations departments of both hospitals were onsite "tweeting" live from the kidney removal surgery of Chris Gilbreath and the surgery immediately following that involved the transplantation of Chris' kidney into his 3-year-old son, John.  

Father/son transplant turns out successful

John had overcome overwhelming odds to survive after his parents were told to make arrangements for his funeral before his birth. Doctors thought John wouldn't be able to breathe due to undeveloped lungs. He also had a condition known as posterior urethral valves (PUV) that compromised his kidney function.

However, John proved that miracles happen with every breath he took. His lungs worked from birth. Both of his kidneys had to be removed, but he developed into a healthy and energetic young boy with the help of nightly 10-hour sessions of peritoneal dialysis.

Once John received his father's kidney, he no longer had to undergo peritoneal dialysis. He was also able to swim and ski – activities he could never do before that his father always wanted to teach him.

Chris was used to saving lives as a firefighter in Sherman, Texas, but he never anticipated saving his son.

"You hope that everything is good and well, and that you'll never have to rescue someone in your own family," Gilbreath said. "But it meant a lot to me to have had the opportunity to help John."

Twitter updates eased nerves

Chris and John attended a going-away party thrown in their honor at Children's on Wednesday, May 27. Media outlets from across Dallas-Fort Worth covered the party and captured the young boy bouncing and grinning on camera only nine days after receiving a kidney from his father. John's mother, Amanda Gilbreath, said the Twitter updates eased her nerves while she sat in the waiting room during the procedures. At John's going-away party, she was fully at peace.

"This is probably one of the happiest days of our lives," she said. "I would definitely say it's hard to believe that it's finally here. John is doing awesome. He looks wonderful and he's very excited about going home."

In total, 167 Twitter updates or "Tweets" were sent from the operating rooms during the surgeries.