Organ transplants save hundreds of lives each year. This is a special story of a liver that was able to save the lives of two people.
Maggie Catherwood is a young college student aged 21. She has been eagerly awaiting a new liver to save her life. When her surgeon told her the good news about a liver being found for her, he also asked if she would share her new liver by allowing doctors to cut off a piece to give to a very sick baby in just as much need as her.
Maggie told the Associated Press, “I can’t imagine anyone saying no.” Just after receiving her new liver Maggie was able to meet the baby with which she shared her new liver with, 8-month-old Allison Brown.
This touching story is unfortunately a rare occurrence. Few organ transplant patients are asked if they would be willing to share their new organ. However there are many who hope this will soon change. There is now pressure being put on the transplant network to ask more patients to share their new livers, which could save many more lives potentially.
The surgeon who carried out the liver transplant on baby Allison, Dr. Thomas Fishbein of Georgetown University Hospital said, “I think it’s safe to say we could nearly eliminate death on the paediatric liver waiting list.”
So how come a liver can be spilt and still work? The liver is one of the human bodies most amazing organs. If a piece of liver if healthy it can re-grow back to a full sized organ in about four weeks. This is one reason why some people have been receiving their new livers from live donators.
The idea of spilt liver donation, using the liver donated by one deceased person to save the lives of two people, is currently a very rare occurrence. Each year there are over 6,000 liver transplants and only around 2 to 3 percent, or 123 of these were split liver donations.
According to Dr. Fishbeing it is extremely rare for an adult to agree to share their liver when the transplant list “rules deem” it “completely his or hers.” He says that the majority of split liver transplants only occur when a liver needs to be cut to fit a baby or child. It is in this circumstance that instead of wasting the healthy piece of liver it is offered to the next suitable candidate.
Maggie is quoted as saying “I didn’t even know it was possible.” When asked about the liver splitting procedure. Just twelve days after the surgery Maggie not only got to meet baby Allison but her grateful mother Terri Brown who said, “The fact that someone else was willing to give up part of that liver they need is amazing to me.”
At the moment in the U.S, the ability to carry out the liver splitting transplants is not available at all transplant centres. It would be very rare to have the incentive or the expertise on hand at a transplant centre that just treats adults. It is also only certain livers that can be split. The livers that can be split must be extremely healthy; this means that in most cases they must come from a healthy young adult who had died as the result of a car accident of something similar.
There are currently around 17,000 Americans waiting for a liver transplant. Livers are always given to the sickest patient as a priority. Maggie became sick last fall when she was diagnosed with Wilson’s disease, which prevented her liver from dealing with copper found in food, this was building up and destroying her liver. Maggie was placed on the liver transplant list just one day after she turned 21. Baby Allison was found to missing major bile ducts at the age of 3 ½ months. Allison was put on the liver transplant list in December and her condition quickly worsened as her liver began to shut down.
The good news for Maggie and Allison came on February 27 when a matching liver became available due to the death of a teenager. A Maggie’s surgeon at the hospital, Cal Matsumoto knew that the liver for Maggie was a match for Allison and decided to approach Maggie about splitting the liver. The two surgeons involved, Matsumoto and Fishbein spilt the liver together and carried out the transplant in adjacent operating theatres.
Both patients seem to be making a good recovery, Maggie was recently well enough to continue her recovery at home and baby Allison is making good progress in the hospital where her severe jaundice is disappearing. Allison’s father has said, “It’s so exciting to see what her eyes look like.” “We got so lucky.”