Lifesaving Liver Transplant Made Possible by Unlikely Source

By: Lawerence Synett

Emily Young waited more than five years for her liver transplant – a lifesaving gift that came from an unexpected person, someone she never even knew.

As a young child, Young’s appendix ruptured, and she received a blood transfusion. She dealt with many health problems over the years, but it wasn’t until about six years ago that the now 38-year-old was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease.

“The further my disease progressed, the worse I felt,” Young said. “I stayed tired, had no energy and slept all the time. A living donor transplant was my best option.”

More than 120,000 people are currently in need of a lifesaving organ transplant, but last year, there were only 9,000 deceased donors and 6,000 living donors in the U.S. Although 90 percent of Americans say they support organ donation, only 52 percent are registered donors, and even fewer understand the benefits of kidney and liver transplants from living donors.

At the same time that Young was awaiting her liver transplant in Cedar Grove, West Virginia, Laura LeViere of Derry, Pennsylvania had already decided to donate a portion of her liver to the father of a childhood friend. That surgery was scheduled to take place this past spring, but the man unexpectedly died before it could take place.

“I went to visit him before he went home to hospice care, and he began talking to me, letting me know the alarming statistics of people who die waiting for an organ,” said LeViere, also 38. “It was then that I knew I would donate, even if it wasn’t to him.”

Over 15,000 Americans are waiting for a liver, according to national statistics, and more than 1,500 people die each year waiting for a donated liver to become available.

LeViere later contacted one of the transplant coordinators at UPMC and asked to remain on the donor list, which is also known as being an altruistic donor. She received a call toward the end of May that she was a match for a recipient, and the successful transplant surgery took place on June 20.

Shortly after the two women were released from the hospital, they met for the first time.

“I’ve tried to put my feelings into words, to describe the selfless act Laura did for me, my husband and my three children, but there are really no words to describe it,” Young said. “A total stranger gave me the gift of life. She is truly a hero because I will get to sit with my husband and watch my children grow up, something I didn’t think I was going to get to do.”

To be a living donor, a person must be at least 18 years old, in good physical and mental health, and be free of high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, hepatitis or organ-specific diseases. Donors do not have to be related to the patient to donate a liver or kidney. In fact, the number of unrelated living donors has nearly tripled since 1998.

For more information about living donation, visit the UPMC Transplant Services website. Those interested in being an altruistic donor can call UPMC at 1-800-544-2500 for more information or to schedule an appointment.