Digestive and Gastrointestinal Conditions

Intestinal Failure

What is intestinal failure?

Intestinal failure means your child's intestines can't absorb enough water and nutrients from food to provide for growth and development.

Normally, the small intestine absorbs most of the nutrients and water in the foods we eat. Sometimes the small intestine doesn't work properly due to injury or disease or because part has been removed to treat another problem, such as gastroschisis. In these cases, a child may not have enough functioning small intestine to absorb the nutrition they need.

Intestinal Failure in Children

There are a number of diseases and conditions that can lead to intestinal failure in children.

The most common cause of intestinal failure is short bowel syndrome (SBS). Children with SBS have had at least half of their small intestine removed to treat a disease, injury or problem with the intestine that is present at birth (congenital). How severe SBS is depends on how much of your child's remaining small intestine is still working.

Not all children with intestinal failure need an intestine transplant. Other treatments for intestinal failure include intravenous nutrition (TPN) and restoring the intestine's function through intestinal rehabilitation. We go over these options in the treatment section that follows.

Intestinal Failure at Seattle Children's

Dr. Simon Horslen, medical director of Liver and Intestine Transplant at Seattle Children's, and Dr. Jorge Reyes, who directs the Transplant Center, are world-renowned experts in the field of intestinal and liver failure. Both have many years of experience treating children with complex digestive problems. Dr. Patrick Javid is the General Surgery leader in the Intestinal Care Program.

Dr. Horslen joined Seattle Children's from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, which is the largest intestine transplant center for children in the United States. While medical director there, Dr. Horslen helped develop methods to successfully wean children from TPN using non-surgical therapies.

Dr. Reyes helped pioneer intestine transplant surgery, which is a relatively new procedure. Dr. Reyes is also one of the few surgeons in the U.S. who has performed 200 multi-organ transplants on children. Dr. Reyes is listed as one of the Best Doctors in America.

Dr. Javid is a pediatric general surgeon with a clinical specialty in intestinal failure. He is active in clinical research focusing on infants and young children with intestinal failure. Dr. Javid performs bowel-lengthening surgeries, including serial transverse enteroplasty (STEP).

Seattle Children's has the only program in the Pacific Northwest and one of the few nationwide that includes specialists who can perform intestine transplants.

We also have the only complete Intestinal Care Program in the Pacific Northwest. Using diet, medicine and some surgical treatments, the program helps restore intestine function without a transplant.

We are committed to excellent results. We are always improving our surgery techniques and medication therapy strategies so we can provide the most current treatments and the very best care for your child.

We continue to advance the practice and understanding of transplants through our research programs. Our top research priority is finding ways to avoid the need for transplantation in infants with intestinal failure.

We are also committed to recruiting and retaining the best transplant specialists.