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Pediatric Gastroenterologist Specializes in Hepatology and Transplant to Give Patients a New Future

Kat Hendrix, Ph.D.
January 21, 2021
Dr. Janaina Nogueira Anderson 
Dr. Janaina Nogueira Anderson

Children with chronic conditions that affect their livers miss out on many joys of childhood including simply attending school, because they spend so much time receiving healthcare. The chance to give these children a normal life is what made Janaina Nogueira Anderson, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at MUSC Children’s Health, want to specialize in hepatology and liver transplantation. “It’s amazing how a liver transplant can save the lives of these kids who can get so very sick,” says Anderson. “After the initial recovery period, they can go to school, get married, have a job, and grow old normally.”

Anderson, an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, comes to MUSC after practicing for ten years at Children’s of Alabama, where she helped establish the pediatric liver transplant program. After completing medical school at the University of Pernambuco in her native Brazil, Anderson chose to pursue her residency and fellowship training in pediatric gastroenterology at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. Originally, she planned to return to practice in Brazil, but changed her mind after training. This is truly a land of opportunity, and I feel blessed to live here,” says Anderson.

Although she also sees general gastroenterology patients, Anderson focuses on hepatology and transplantation in children with chronic liver diseases. It is a diverse and challenging population, because so many conditions affect liver function including a variety of congenital diseases. “Pediatric biliary atresia, where infants develop defective bile ducts, is one of the many conditions we see, which can progress to liver failure. It accounts for about twenty-five percent of all pediatric liver transplants,” says Anderson. “There are also many other congenital and metabolic conditions we treat, including alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, familial cholestatic syndromes, inborn errors of metabolism, and autoimmune hepatitis, among other causes of chronic liver disease.”

But the force that truly motivates her is the chance to give her patients a new lease on life. “These conditions give them a very difficult quality of life where they can’t live like normal kids. They’re always in the clinic, at the doctor, and in the hospital. My goal is to bring these kids back to living like normal children again,” says Anderson. “Over this past Christmas, we admitted a young girl who needed a liver transplant. She was really only hours from being dead. The change from when she came in makes me so happy. She’s like a normal child now with a whole life ahead of her and new hopes and dreams.”

Anderson will also collaborate on research and establishing new multidisciplinary clinics at MUSC. She plans to work with colleagues in endocrinology on a fatty liver disease clinic and with others in interventional radiology on a hepatobiliary clinic. Anderson explains, “The hepatobiliary clinic will be for patients who may have resectable liver tumors, abnormal bile ducts, or complications of portal hypertension but who don’t yet need a transplant. If we can intervene and prevent them from getting worse, most of them won’t need one in the future.”

Although rates of pediatric liver disease are no different in South Carolina than in other states, Anderson has noticed some unique characteristics in the patients she sees. “They often come from far away–sometimes driving three or four hours to their appointments–and many are acutely ill. Some of our patients have already seen other physicians and we’re their third or fourth referral. So, they are sometimes sicker by the time we meet them,” says Anderson. This phenomenon may be partly explained by the difficulty of diagnosing certain conditions. Without an accurate diagnosis, recommended treatments are not applied, giving the disease and comorbid complications time to progress. “Having a pediatric hepatologist following these patients from early diagnosis can alter the trajectory of some of these severe diseases in children” says Anderson.

Anderson sees patients at MUSC’s R. Keith Summey Medical Pavilion in North Charleston, Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital in downtown Charleston, and Children’s Health Specialty Care in Mount Pleasant. If you would like to make an appointment with Dr. Anderson or refer a patient, please call 843-876-0444.