Woman saves Maryland man with gift of her liver

A look at living donor organ transplantation

For 49-year-old Charles Hughes, life has taken on a whole new meaning. 
 
"It's not over with me yet. Hell, one day I might get to sky dive. Who knows," he said. 
 
It was just one month ago that Hughes was lying in a hospital bed recovering from a liver transplant. 
 
The donor was April Biggs, who he has known for more than 25 years. 
 
It all began with a status update on Facebook. Biggs posted on the social media site about donating blood.
 
The timing was perfect for Hughes who had been suffering from cirrhosis of the liver for the past seven years. All he needed was more information.  
 
"He asked what blood type I was and I said I was O positive and then right away he was like, 'can you call me?' Every time someone says that, I get nervous, like something's wrong," Biggs told ABC2.
 
 
Hughes' condition worsened. Doctors told him needed a liver and he didn't know where else to turn. The same disease killed his father and brother-in-law. Biggs didn't hesitate.
 
"She told me right away, 'Uncle Charles, there is no deciding. I'll do it. I'll do it.' And I couldn't talk anymore, I was speechless. Crying and everything else and till this day I still cry about it," Hughes said. 
 
"He said you don't have to make a decision now, but in my head it was already decided if it came down to me being a match," Biggs said. 
 
It was a match. That is pretty amazing considering that while they are close enough to be blood relatives, calling each other uncle and niece, they actually aren't. 
 
After realizing their blood type was the same, the rest of the pieces just fell into place. 
 
"I was like, 'Oh my God, how is that possible?' It's so difficult because we're not blood related, nothing, it just worked out, it's amazing," Biggs said. 
 
Doctors John LaMattina and Steve Hanish are two thirds of the surgery team at the University of Maryland Medical Center and also work with the School of Medicine. 
 
They said the liver is a particularly unique organ in that it can actually regenerate. 
 
"We'll divide the liver in half and we'll take half of their liver mass out but it will actually grow back to its same volume in about three weeks which is really quite amazing," LaMattina said. 
 
That three week time period applies to both the donor and the recipient and they are back on their feet soon after to live normal, healthy lives. 
 
The living donor liver transplant doesn't happen often.
 
Hanish said there are 6,000 people transplanted every year in the U.S. and 18,000 on the wait list. 
 
"Of the 6,000 that get transplanted, less than 5 percent, so less than 300 of those transplants are done in a living donor fashion. The other 95 plus percent are all from deceased donors," Hanish explained. 
 
Hanish said the living donor liver transplant is likely the most technically challenging procedure they do which is why it takes a team to perform.
 
The loving arrangement like the one Hughes and Biggs made helps them bypass the time they usually have to wait until someone is sick enough before moving forward. 
 
"One of the benefits of living donor liver transplant is we can transplant them earlier, so not only can get them a liver but we can transplant them while they're a bit stronger and able to recover faster so they don't have to be in the ICU and on the breathing tube and on dialysis machine before transplant. We can actually do it when they're a little bit healthier and they can recover faster," LaMattina said. 
 
"I think for those patients who have liver disease and come visit us, we talk about it to all our potential recipients just because in Maryland, unfortunately, you have to be very sick to get a liver transplant. Just the way that livers are allocated in this country. But this is a exceptional procedure that we're able to do that can bypass some of the wait so that patients can get transplanted before they get very sick," Hanish added. 
 
Not only is Hughes feeling much better one month later, but he said he feels like he has been given a second birthday.
 
"This whole ordeal changed my life and made me look at things a lot different and appreciate what you have in life, because it might not be here tomorrow," Hughes said. 
 
For him and his surgeons, the goal in sharing the story is to raise awareness about organ donation.
 
"For us, really the most important message from this is how special organ donation is, how critical organ donation is. For patients in this part of the country, only about half of people who need a transplant are going to get it so anything that we can do to increase awareness about deceased organ donation, to increase awareness about  living donor organ donation, is really critical," LaMattina said. 
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