The Grapevine

Living-Donor Liver Transplant: Man Donates Part Of Organ To Save Mother

As Mother's Day 2018 marks another annual celebration of motherhood with greeting cards, flowers, and coffee mugs, 54-year-old Dawn Wright received a rather exceptional gift from her son: a living liver donation. 

"For the past five years, Mrs. Wright suffered from liver issues that eventually led to cirrhosis of her liver. Her skin and eyes were jaundiced, one of the indications of the liver disease she was experiencing," explained her liver transplant surgeon, Dr. Koji Hashimoto who is the director of Living Donor Liver Transplantation and Pediatric Liver Transplantation at Cleveland Clinic, Ohio.

Initially, Wright described struggling with water retention which caused bloating and swelling in her feet and ankles. In 2012, her condition had worsened to such a degree that she was admitted to the ICU and put on life support. Eventually, she was tested and diagnosed with advanced liver cirrhosis.

"My eyes and skin became more and more yellow. I had numerous periods of confusion, lack of appetite and sleep," she described to Medical Daily.

Cirrhosis is a condition that leaves the liver scarred and unable to function due to long-term damage. Causes typically include chronic hepatitis, alcohol abuse, genetic disorders among others. In the case of Wright, the cause was unknown.

In January 2018, her 27-year-old son Jack Wright volunteered to donate a piece of his liver. He conducted his own research and found that he could donate a part of his liver in what is known as a living-donor liver transplant.

The procedure involves transplanting a part of the liver from a living donor into a recipient whose liver no longer functions properly. It usually takes between six to eight weeks for a healthy liver to grow back.

"As her son, I had no hesitation in offering to give my mom, my liver," he explained, adding that the tests showed him to be a perfect match.

Wright described feeling surprised and concerned for her son as she was unaware that a living person could donate their liver.

"My son was willing to go to this extreme, through a procedure he had no idea about, to save my life. He offered this gift without any hesitation," she said. 

Once she was made aware of the prospect of the surgery and the risk she would face by continuing to wait, she felt confident in moving forward. There are a number of conditions that determine who can qualify as a living liver donor. The donor must be between 18 and 55 years old and cannot obtain any financial gain from the living donation. Physical and mental health must meet requirements with no history of major illnesses such as fatty liver, viral hepatitis, liver disease etc.

Wright received 35 percent of her son’s liver in the transplant procedure. Four months after the successful transplant, Wright has been planning a trip to England to visit her parents while her son has been able to return to work. The two hoped to share their story and raise awareness about the transplant procedure.

"Living-donor liver transplant makes timely transplant possible. On the liver transplant waiting list, 1 in 5 patients (20 percent) die due to long waiting time for organs from deceased donors," Dr. Hashimoto said. By waiting too long, he added, complications of liver cirrhosis can end up damaging vital organs such as the brain, lungs, heart, and kidneys.