Founders — Mark and Diane Sumner
Early in his infancy Chris Sumner seemed, by all appearances, to be a healthy baby boy. Then at 6 weeks of age, a doctor noticed that Chris was jaundiced–an observation that forever changed the lives of Chris’ parents, Mark and Diane Sumner...
Chris was quickly taken to the hospital to have blood drawn for testing. That evening the Sumner’s’ pediatrician wanted to see Chris immediately. The visit resulted in the ordering of more blood work and, within an hour, Chris was admitted to Stanford University Medical Center. After enduring a multitude of additional tests, including one that showed that he had no bile in his intestines, Chris was scheduled for exploratory surgery. During surgery, it was determined that the bile duct outside Chris’ liver was blocked – he had Biliary Atresia. Consequently, during the operation, an external Kasai procedure was performed, which bought precious time for treatments and/or a cure to be found. The next 4 years of Chris’ life were fraught with many bleeding episodes, countless urgent ER visits, frequent hospitalizations, and regular blood transfusions. During these harrowing times, Chris’ health and liver functions continued to decline. At the age of 3, he was placed on the UNOS liver transplant waiting list. Just before his 4th birthday, Chris underwent a successful liver transplant.
After learning of their son’s diagnosis, the Sumner's began looking for support groups and more information on Chris’ condition. In the summer of 1983, Diane and Mark attended a Children’s Liver Foundation (CLF) hosted picnic. Attending this picnic allowed them to see that there were many success stories associated with liver disease, a very comforting and uplifting realization. Until this point, all that they had seen and known were children with liver disease that were very ill. Although their search for support was largely successful, Mark was growing increasingly frustrated with his search for information. The information that he did find on Chris’ condition was too difficult to understand unless one was a doctor. More intelligible sources of information simply did not exist. The experiences of finding support and the lack of information would become the basis for the founding of C.L.A.S.S. 12 years later.
Diane and Mark quickly and eagerly became involved in the Southern California chapter of the CLF. In time, Diane became President of the chapter, a position she held until the disbanding of the national CLF organization in 1987. The Summers then joined the Board of Directors of the local chapter of the United Liver Association (ULA) hoping to bring attention to the desperate need for services directed specifically towards children. Diane was named to a newly created position, Director of Children’s Services, which allowed her to bring focus to children’s programs. In 1994, Mark and Diane resigned from the ULA and set out on the long journey of establishing a non-profit organization.
The date June 5, 1994 marked the incorporation of the Children’s Liver Association for Support Services known as C.L.A.S.S. The Sumner’s family den became the organization’s headquarters. That November, the first C.L.A.S.S. newsletter, edited by Mark, was distributed. It was from this pivotal time that C.L.A.S.S. grew to become the multi-faceted organization that it is today.