Tej with docs

Faster than a jet plane, more courageous than a Jedi Knight, with a captivating presence and an infectious laugh, it's Tej Bisarya, aka JEDI JET!

The force is strong with Tej (hence the nickname). At 2, he bravely conquered a life- threatening asthma attack on Thanksgiving Day. He slays severe food allergies with a maturity twice his age and a stash of healthy cupcakes for special occasions. He bolts across the soccer pitch at lightning speed, always smiling, win or lose.

But nothing could prepare Jedi Jet for his most powerful adversary yet. At just 10 years old, Tej was diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening form of liver cancer. Soccer practice gave way to marathon hospital stays. Constant sickness left him too ill for school, too exhausted for friends. Life became a messy, painful jumble of feeding tubes, chemo ports, and hair loss.

Even for a superkid like Tej, the odds are against any child diagnosed with a rare liver tumor, which can have profound and lasting impacts on physical, psychological, and emotional health. To vanquish the cancer once and for all, Tej and his family were going to need to join forces with a super team of pediatric health heroes.

Enter UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Liver Center.

UCSF to the Rescue

Tej was diagnosed with cancer just a few days after arriving in Germany for a family vacation. Standing in a busy hallway at a children’s clinic in Stuttgart, amid a powerful surge of fear, uncertainty, and disbelief, Tej’s mom, Chetana, thought of her old college friend, UCSF pediatric liver surgeon Amar Nijagal, MD, and texted him.

As luck would have it, Nijagal’s passion project was the key to Tej’s situation. Diagnoses like Tej’s are extremely complicated, involving chemotherapy, organ transplants, dozens of specialists, enormous expense, and serious psychosocial consequences. Nijagal and his colleagues had dedicated years to building a program designed to make the patient experience easier, more streamlined, and more supportive.

Their vision began to take shape as UCSF’s Pediatric Liver Center of Excellence: an interdisciplinary hub bringing together exceptional providers from hepatology, radiology, oncology, hematology, pathology, organ transplant, psychiatry, and others. The goal: Simplify a complex care process by creating a medical home for children diagnosed with liver disorders encompassing comprehensive, coordinated medical and psychosocial services.

"We had been working on developing this really amazing service, so it was an incredible feeling to be able to offer it to this family,” Nijagal says. “We knew exactly how to provide the level of care we had been envisioning for years."

Navigating Cancer

The Bisaryas flew home to San Francisco, and Tej was admitted to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Mission Bay the next day. Within hours, Tej was biopsied, scanned, and prepared for chemotherapy. Chetana and Nirav, Tej's father, met with key members of the medical team, including hematologist-oncologist Arun Rangaswami, MD; and Emily Perito, MD, and Sue Rhee, MD, both of whom specialize in gastroenterology and liver disorders.

"Right away, we felt guided medically, and with so much empathy,” Nirav says. “We knew we were in the right place.”

Yet even with so much support from the UCSF staff, as well as flexible employers,  and an active network of family and friends, the Bisaryas’ lives were upended. Tej became extremely ill. The nausea, vomiting, and discomfort were constant. Chetana, Nirav, and older brother Vikram rode the emotional roller coaster of cancer treatment with Tej as everything else – work, friends, and self-care – took a backseat.

Then, another devastating blow: The chemotherapy wasn’t enough. Tej would need a liver transplant immediately to survive the cancer – a costly procedure with a lengthy wait list.

But he was lucky. The Bisaryas’ insurance covered the procedure, and an extended family member, Raghav Kohli, was identified as a living donor match so Tej could forego the wait. Tej and Raghav underwent a 12-hour procedure in which a transplanted portion of Raghav’s liver completely replaced Tej’s liver, where it ultimately would grow to full size, restore normal liver function, and eventually get Jedi Jet back to super strength.

Tej outside of UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Mission Bay during cancer treatment.
Tej and Raghav: Tej and his uncle and organ donor Raghav take a walk together, three months after the liver transplant procedure
Tej celebrates the end of cancer treatment with his family, from left: Chetana, Tej, Nirav, and Vikram Bisarya.
Nirav and Tej, now cancer free and back on the soccer pitch, in 2024.
01 / 10 Tej Bisarya, three months before he was diagnosed with cancer.
02 / 10 In August 2022, shortly before his 11th birthday, Tej began cancer treatment at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Mission Bay.
03 / 10 After finishing chemo in October, Tej began preparing for liver transplant surgery by documenting key pieces of the process on a white board.
04 / 10 Just a few days before Thanksgiving, Nirav, Tej, and Chetana checked in at UCSF Benioff Mission Bay for Tej's liver transplant surgery.
05 / 10 The 12-hour liver transplant surgery was a success, and just a day after the procedure, Tej posed for a picture with members of his care team.
06 / 10 Just a week after the operation, Charles Rickert, MD, one of Tej's surgeons, watched the World Cup with Tej in his hospital room.
07 / 10 Three months after the procedure, Tej and Raghav Koli, Tej's uncle and organ donor, were already on the mend and taking walks together.
08 / 10 In February 2023, Tej was declared cancer free. In March, he marked the milestone of completing chemotherapy treatment and beginning the next chapter of his life by "ringing the bell" with his family, from left: Chetana, Tej, Nirav, and Vikram Bisarya.
09 / 10 Tej and his UCSF super team from left: Charles Rickert, MD, PhD (transplant surgery), Arun Rangaswami, MD (pediatric hematologist- oncologist), Tracy Sirota, PNP, MSN, Tej Bisarya, Benjamin Lerman, MD (pediatric hematologist- oncologist), Amar Nijagal, MD (pediatric surgery), and Shagun Arora, MD (malignant hematologist).
10 / 10 Tej, pictured here with Nirav in 2024, returned to school part-time in March and slowly transitioned to full school days. He is rebuilding his focus on classroom learning and is more comfortable talking about beating cancer. He even wrote an essay about it and made a presentation to his classmates about cancer and organ transplant.

A Center of Excellence

Today, Tej is cancer free. He’s back in school and playing sports again. His side-splitting laugh has returned to full strength, and he’s taking his medical appointments in stride. The Jedi Jet glint in his eye is back.

As Nirav and Chetana navigated the world of pediatric liver cancer and organ transplants, they became acutely aware of how special their experience at UCSF had been. The team had eased an otherwise agonizing experience.

The Bisaryas asked Nijagal what it would take to expand the center so more children could access the remarkable expertise and guidance that benefited Tej. Nijagal shared the team’s vision that, with additional investment, they could establish a Center of Excellence that would provide the full spectrum of medical, psychological, and coordination support essential to navigating a liver diagnosis, particularly for underserved families.

Chetana, Nirav, and their family decided to make a leadership gift to launch the Pediatric Liver Center of Excellence. Their major support will allow many more families to benefit from UCSF’s leading liver care. The Bisaryas are also actively assisting the center’s team to spread the word and generate sustainable funding to support superkids like Tej for generations to come.

"We knew we were the early beneficiaries of their vision,” Nirav says. “It was already incubated, and the structure was beginning to form. We wanted to help them take it to the next level, to enhance the experiences of every family that follows us.”

To support the Jedi Jet Fund for the Pediatric Liver Center of Excellence, please visit https://tiny.ucsf.edu/PLCoE or click the "Make a Gift" button below.

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