Lifewatch: Live liver donors

Reported by Claire Hosmann - email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WECT) - Did you know that you can donate your organs before you die?

Right now, there are 18,000 people in the United States who are waiting for a liver transplants.

In most cases, the new liver will come from a deceased donor, but since only a handful of cadaver donors are available, there is a way for patients to receive liver tissue from living donors.

Torrey Brown, Sr. and Torrey Brown, Jr. share more than a name - they share a liver.

"I always see myself in the future being able to say, 'You know you have a piece of me in you,'" said Torrey, Sr.

His son was born with a liver that wasn't working.  Torrey, Sr. was a perfect transplant match and was one of the first to be spared the pain of traditional surgery.

"Often times, the donors would come out of these operations looking worse than their recipients," said Dr. Lynt Johnson, Chief, Division of Transplant and Hepatobiliary Surgery Georgetown University Hospital.

Transplant surgeon Johnson led the team in Torrey's liver removal. Two tiny incisions were made, one for a laparoscope and one for an instrument that cuts tissue.

Another 3-inch incision allows the surgeon's hand inside the body to move the liver into place.  The liver is then divided and removed by hand.

"It allows us to really be able to see some things that we weren't able to see in the same fashion," said Dr. Johnson.

The new procedure means a 4-hour surgery, a smaller incision and it cuts hospital and recovery time in half.

90% of Torrey, Sr's liver will grow back in three months.

"Senior won't feel like he's got part of his liver missing, nor will he feel it as it's growing back; but the liver will re-grow and Torrey, as he grows, the liver will grow with him," said Dr. Johnson.

Torrey, Jr. will need medication and blood work for the rest of his life.

The main risk of laparoscopic surgery is usually bleeding.  Dr. Johnson says he reduces that risk by using his hand to compress the main blood vessels.

The only other organ donated by a living donor is the kidney, which can also be removed laparoscopically.

This procedure has been increasingly successful and shows promise as a solution to the shortage of liver donors.

It is becoming the most frequent option in children, partially because child-sized livers are in such short supply.