Live liver transplant marks milestone

December 15, 2008 3:47:24 PM PST
One of the country's leading centers for organ transplants celebrated its one-thousandth liver transplant today. Transplant recipients, donors, family, friends and staff celebrated the milestone at New York Presbyterians on Monday.

Possibly two of the happiest people there were Debra and Jose Viteri.

They are part of a growing trend where liver transplants from live donors.

Six weeks ago, Jose was dying of liver disease, but he could be saved if his wife, who was a match, agreed to give him a part gave him a part of her liver.

"There was some fear. I feared for her life. Our children are young girls," Jose said.

Debra admits she too was afraid, but only at first.

"As I went to the clinic and got educated, I began to get more peace about it," she said.

The surgery at New York Presbyterian took place on November 4. His liver, very nearly failing, had to be replaced. From Debra's liver, doctors took the right lobe, about 60 percent of the liver. They implanted that part in Jose.

It's a technique that is possible because the liver is a body organ that is able to regenerate.

"The organ that is donated will grow back rapidly in six to 12 weeks, and the part placed in the new body also grows quickly," Dr. Jean Emond explained.

Livers from deceased donors are still the main source of transplants. Nineteen people a day die waiting for a liver, but sometimes a family match can make a live transplant possible.

For the counselor and therapist from Long Island, the liver was a 15th wedding anniversary present.

"This is my gift to my husband, which is wonderful. It's a whole new life," Debra said.

About 10 percent of the hospital transplants this year were live liver donations.

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