Eighth anniversary of the world's first successful living-related liver transplant, November 27 (Thanksgiving Day)

November 25, 1997

November 27, 1997 marks the eighth anniversary of the world's first successful living-related liver transplant surgery, performed at the University of Chicago Hospitals. Then 21-month old Alyssa Smith from Schertz, Texas, received a portion of her mother Teri's liver. Alyssa has perfectly normal liver function and leads the life of a typical nine year old. Since then, surgeons have performed 111 living-donor liver transplants in children.

Seven-month-old Emma Tifft from Bennington, Vermont, received the 112th living donor transplant on October 21, 1997. Emma's mother Erin, 26, donated a portion of her liver to her infant daughter who suffered from biliary atresia. They have both been discharged from the hospital and will spend their Thanksgiving in Chicago before returning home next week.

"We knew we were going to be here for Thanksgiving, but we never expected to go home before Christmas," said Edward Tifft, Emma's father. "We're glad that we had the option of the living-donor transplant, but in a perfect world there would be more organ donors."

The development of living-donor liver transplants has maximized the number of available donors, helping to alleviate the organ donor shortage. Nearly 40 percent of all living-donor liver transplants in the United States are performed at the University of Chicago Hospitals. The Hospitals' living-donor liver transplant one-year patient survival is 86.5 percent; nationally, one-year patient survival for pediatric cadaveric liver transplants is 79.8 percent.

"Living-donor liver transplantation provides enormous benefits to the recipient and family and has eliminated pretransplant mortality in children at the University of Chicago," said J. Michael Millis, MD, associate professor of surgery and director of the liver transplant program at the University of Chicago Hospitals. The benefits of living-donor liver transplantation include:

  • timely transplant before the patient becomes critically ill, which is often the case when waiting for a suitable cadaveric organ;
  • the partial use of a living-donor organ provides a superior graft and there is no trauma to the organ or delays associated with donor death or transport
  • no pre-transplant mortality, compared with the United Network for Organ Sharing estimate of 15 percent pre-transplant mortality associated with cadevaric transplants in young children.

The living-donor liver transplant is composed of two separate operations--the removal of a segment from the donor and transplantation of the removed segment into the recipient. Liver donation carries approximately a 5 percent risk of surgical complications and an estimated one-half to 1 percent risk of death. There have been no donor deaths at the University of Chicago. The most frequently used donors are parents, but in some cases an uncle, aunt, grandparent, or close family friend may also be a suitable donor.

The most common cause of liver failure in children is biliary atresia, a disease that affects 400-500 children in the U.S. each year and has no known cause. It is a severe and usually fatal disease in which the bile ducts are blocked, causing cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver and loss of function. The second most common cause of liver failure is inborn errors of metabolism, a series of inherited diseases marked by the failure of the liver to produce a particular enzyme.

"Ten years ago, children with liver disease would probably not survive until their fifth birthday," said Lynda Brady, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics and hepatologist at the University of Chicago Children's Hospital. "Now many of these children can grow and thrive with few, if any, setbacks to their normal development."

Nationally, there are 56,204 patients on the waiting list for organs; 9,406 of those patients are awaiting liver transplants. In 1996, 954 patients died while waiting for liver transplants.

The liver transplant team at the University of Chicago Hospitals has performed more than 1,179 pediatric and adult liver transplants since the program began in October 1984; it is considered the leading pediatric liver transplant program in the U.S. The team is comprised of transplant surgeons, hepatologists, specially trained nurses and support staff. Pediatric patients are cared for at the University of Chicago Children's Hospital, a 156-bed facility that is part of the 665-bed University of Chicago Hospitals located in Hyde Park on Chicago's South Side.

Special note: The annual liver transplant patients' holiday party will be held Tuesday, December 2, 1997 at 6:00 p.m. at 5758 South Maryland Avenue. This annual reunion brings together liver transplant recipients and their family members, including several liver donors, as well as several patients who are currently waiting for transplants.

This annual gathering--a celebration of 13 years of life-saving organ transplants--allows pediatric and adult transplant patients to share experiences, renew old friendships, and provide support and encouragement to those facing the operation. The celebration includes dinner, Christmas carols, and an early visit from Santa Claus.

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