“Living in Line” for life-saving liver transplant

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OLD FORGE, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) –  Waiting for a life-saving organ transplant can be a stressful and anxious time. For roughly 1,500 people each year who need a liver transplant, it doesn’t happen in time. Eyewitness News Healthbeat Reporter Mark Hiller checked out a program that helps resolve organ donor shortage and how it may benefit a Lackawanna County woman who is living in line.

“It’s kind of calming and soothing.” Touching up some wooden tulips means more to Linda Clark than just applying a fresh coat of paint. “It does help me to forget all the underlying problems that I have.” The 60-year-old Old Forge woman suffers from what’s called primary biliary cholangitis. “I am tired a lot. That is one of the things that goes along with liver disease is fatigue.”

The autoimmune disease Linda was diagnosed with more than two decades ago damages the bile ducts of the liver. “They just said that it was very slow growing, slow progressive and that in probably about 20, 25 years I would need a liver transplant.” Doctors determined this past January the time had come but Linda’s MELD score, which stands for Model For End Stage Liver Disease, still wasn’t as high as many other patients. It means Linda’s wait for the life-saving surgery could take years. “It could be quicker. It could be a long time. They say, you know, you just never know,” she said.

Linda is among more than 15,000 people living in line for a liver transplant. She’s from what’s considered the greater Philadelphia region where more than 700 people are on the liver transplant waiting list. But for Linda, there’s another option besides a deceased donor. It’s a program that’s been around since 1999 at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania – Penn Medicine. Its Chief of Transplant Surgery Kim Olthoff, MD said, “What living donor liver transplantation provides is the opportunity to be transplanted before you get so sick and so ill.”

Patients in need can seek out someone who is healthy, able and willing to become their designated donor. Dr. Olthoff said, “So you give up part of your liver but then the liver grows to become the size it was before you donated.” It’s an opportunity for patients like Linda to receive an organ they so desperately need. “Actually, the outcomes are better than waiting for a deceased donor liver transplant,” said Dr. Olthoff. 

“It blows my mind. It just blows my mind that somebody is willing to have that extensive a surgery to help me,” said Linda who acknowledged that a woman she has only known a few years is being tested to see if she’s a suitable donor. So far, so good. Linda’s long and difficult health journey may soon end with a liver she’s not sure she’d ever receive. “Anybody that I know of who knows someone who got a liver, they said they’re back to a regular, normal life. So that’s pretty cool. That is pretty cool.”

If Linda’s potential designated donor meets all the requirements, the transplant surgery could take place as early as June.


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