Christmas Comes Early for Liver Transplant Patient and Her Donor Son

By: Mattie Winowitch

In January 2018, Monet Buechel, 69, of Upper St. Clair, went to a local hospital for a routine medical procedure. Once the anesthesia wore off, her organs mysteriously started shutting down. “They almost lost me,” said Buechel.

What was supposed to be a minor procedure that would take less than a few hours ended up keeping Buechel in the hospital for almost 10 days. The root of the problem was found in her liver, as doctors discovered traces of fatty liver disease and NASH.

“My doctor called liver disease the ‘silent killer,’” Buechel said.

After being discharged, she attempted to get on the liver transplant waiting list for six months but was unsuccessful. Buechel was later told that due to the state of her health, waiting for a life-saving transplant might not be a feasible option. That’s when she decided to turn to UPMC.

Unlike Buechel’s previous health care provider, UPMC offers living-donor liver transplants. This unique operation uses the liver’s ability to regenerate itself to allow a healthy individual to donate a portion of his or her liver to someone in need of a transplant.

When she initially enrolled in the LDLT program, her 35-year-old son, Brian Buechel, happened to be back in Pittsburgh for an extended stay.

donor“I immediately asked what I needed to do,” said Brian. “I even reached out to some of my collegiate friends on a group chat and told them what was going on with my mom at the time. The response from everyone was incredible.”

Regardless of the outpouring of support from family members and community volunteers who wanted to help, it was Brian who continued to go through the testing required to become his mom’s donor.

“My parents have given so much of themselves to my siblings and me,” he said. “The least we can do is give back. For me, it was no decision — it was absolutely a no-brainer.”

Brian said the most complicated part of the testing process was fitting it into his travel schedule.

Because of his contracting job, he spent most of the summer and fall working abroad in Paris and across the East Coast. When he wasn’t on the road, he spent time with his pregnant wife and son at home in Washington, D.C.

Eventually, he was told that he was a match, and the mother-son duo went in for transplant surgery on Nov. 28. Dr. Abhi Humar, chief of transplant at UPMC, said Monet’s new liver began working immediately, which was a sign that everything was going to be OK.

“When we put the section of Brian’s liver into Monet, it was like it was hers the whole time,” Humar said. “It was the perfect size, the perfect fit, and there was not a lot of regeneration that had to occur.”

Today, nearly a month after transplant, both are slowly transitioning back to normalcy as they continue to heal. Monet said the care she received at UPMC has prepared her for this new stage of her life.

“UPMC was just — I couldn’t say enough good things about everyone there,” Monet said. “They were so unbelievable, and they advocated for me every step of the way.”

But, none of this could be possible without her son, whom she said she will never be able to thank enough for the sacrifices he made.

“I told him, ‘Brian, not everybody would do this,’ and he said, ‘But you’re my mom,’” Monet said. “I just thought that was so sweet. He’s wonderful.”

Brian is still overwhelmed by the second chance he was able to provide for his mom through the most precious gift of all this holiday season: life.

“If this procedure weren’t available, we’d be celebrating the holidays in a very different way,” he said. “Christmas really came early this year.”