Nearly 14,000 people are on the liver transplant list, according to the American Liver Foundation. Experts say about 10% of them will die or become too sick for transplant before it's their turn.
This is the story of a Salt Lake City mother and son. She gave him life, and now he is doing the same. It's a surgery with a unique twist.
Gwen Finlayson's autoimmune hepatitis led to cirrhosis years ago.
"A lot of fatigue, and that really is the biggest thing, not being able to have the energy to do the things you want to do," she said of the symptoms.
She was on the liver transplant list. Then, her son, Brandon, offered to donate part of his.
"She needed this, and for the couple months of discomfort, that was well worth it," he said.
"The reason why a live donation is important to do before the patients get too sick is because you're not doing a full liver, you're only doing 40% to 60%," said Dr. Manuel Rodriguez-Davalos, the director of the living liver donor transplant program at Intermountain Healthcare Transplant Services.
Gwen is petite, so Rodriguez-Davalos took Brandon's smaller left lobe, which is usually done for adolescents. It's the first time it's been done between adults in Utah.
The family and surgeons knew exactly how both livers looked before transplant. The team used 3D imaging to print models.
"The fact that we're able to kind of go over step by step, it's just so much easier than just seeing a CAT scan on the screen," Rodriguez-Davalos said.
"Beforehand, we could see her liver, we could see my liver, and we could see exactly how they were going to cut it open," Brandon said.
Brandon was home in five days, Gwen in nine. Both their livers grew back to functioning size.
Now, Gwen is looking ahead and thankful every day.
"When I have milestones, when things are great, when things are going well, I try to reach out and tell him, because I want him to know how grateful I am," she said.
Rodriguez-Davalos plans to make 3D models of Brandon's and Gwen's livers in a year to see how they've grown.
Intermountain Transplant Services recently got a grant to create a 3D-printed liver library. Rodriguez-Davalos says models of donor and recipient livers will help educate patients and surgeons in training.
TOPIC: 3D PRINTING LIVE LIVER DONATION: MOM AND SON MAKE HISTORY
REPORT: MB #4622
BACKGROUND: Your liver is the largest organ inside your body. It helps the body digest food, store energy, and remove toxins from the body. Liver disease can be caused by different viruses and drugs or poison that we put into our bodies. Viruses like hepatitis A, B, and C, as well as too much alcohol are all examples of things that could cause liver disease and cirrhosis. Liver disease will progress from fibrosis, to cirrhosis, then to cancer and ending in liver failure which means your liver has lost all function. (Source: https://medlineplus.gov/liverdiseases.html & https://liverfoundation.org/for-patients/about-the-liver/theprogression-of-liver-disease/)
TREATMENT: Liver transplants are done for patents whose liver is no longer healthy and is diseased. A
transplant allows a patient to get a healthy liver from someone else. That someone else, most of the time, is someone who has recently passed away that is an organ donor. In some cases, only part of liver can be
transplanted to help save someone's life. That part of the liver can come from a family member or someone has who the same blood type. The reason this can happen is because the liver is the only organ in the entire human body that can regenerate itself. Whoever the live donor is will have their liver grow back to its normal size after surgery, and the same goes for the recipient of the liver. The issue for many patients is by the time their name gets to the top of the transplant list, it is already too late. There are currently 17,000 people waiting on the liver transplant list in the United States. (Source: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/liver-transplant & https://columbiasurgery.org/liver/liver-transplant-waiting-list)
3D PRINTING: Manuel Rodriguez-Davalos, MD, Director of the Living Liver Donor Transplant Program at Intermountain Healthcare Transplant Services explains how he printed a 3D model of a mother's liver before she received part of her son's liver to help her survive. "The fact that we're able to kind of go over, step by step. It's just so much easier than just seeing a CAT scan on the screen, said Dr. Rodriguez-Davalos." Both the mother and son's kidneys have grown back to actual size and Dr. Rodriguez-Davalos said he plans to make 3D models of the livers after a year to show how they have grown. He also says researchers have already bio-printed blood vessels to use in the body so he hopes someday to have 3D bio-printed livers. (Resource: Manuel Rodriguez-Davalos, MD)