Two Patients Benefit From New Procedure To Split One Donated Liver
(Washington, DC) – Twenty-one year old Maggie Catherwood of Sterling, Virginia lay gravely ill from a condition called Wilson's Disease that had destroyed her liver when in late February a life-saving donor liver became available. When doctors at Georgetown University Hospital brought Maggie the good news they also had a question for her. Would Maggie be interested or willing to sacrifice a portion of this donated liver to save an 8-month old baby girl? The liver that would be placed in Maggie's body was also a match for this child who was also critically ill.
"My doctor asked me if I would be willing to give up a small piece of the donated liver to this baby girl and I said that she could have the whole liver if she needed it. I could wait," said Maggie Catherwood. But the transplant team including Thomas Fishbein, MD and Cal Matsumoto, MD split the liver in two and gave a portion to Maggie and a smaller portion to little Allison Brown of Waldorf, Maryland. The transplant operations took place in adjoining operating rooms and were performed on February 28. Maggie went home two weeks later; little Allison Brown is expected to leave the hospital soon. Both livers will regenerate and grow to the correct size as the young ladies grow up.
On Monday March 12, less than two weeks since the surgery, Maggie finally got to meet little Allison. "She was even cuter than I imagined. I'm so glad I had the chance to help her," said Maggie.
Allison's mother Terry Brown said, "I was so honored to meet Maggie. She and my daughter will always be connected by this experience. We are extremely grateful to Maggie and her parents for making this life-saving decision for our daughter. Maggie's parents must be so proud of their daughter for making this choice."
"This case really moved me," said Dr. Fishbein, director Intestinal and Pediatric Liver Transplantation at Georgetown University Hospital. "Here we had a 21-year old young woman with her whole life ahead of her and she was willing to help someone else, a little baby, also with her whole life ahead of her. Maggie didn't have to give up a piece of the donated liver. It was hers. But in the end she saved that baby's life. And she did it without hesitation."
When Maggie woke up from surgery she was intubated and unable to speak, so she asked nurses for a pencil and paper. Her first "words" were 'how is the baby doing?'
"I was relieved to know that she was also doing well," Maggie said.
"I am currently on a committee with the United Network of Organ Sharing that is studying this concept of splitting livers and trying to save more than one patient with one liver," Dr. Fishbein said. "Right now this procedure is very uncommon, but that could change. If it was done more often, more children on the liver transplant waiting list could be saved. It is safe to say that if all the livers that are medically acceptable for splitting were shared in this way, we could probably eliminate the problem of children dying on the waiting list. However, it takes both the surgical expertise in the centers, and a willingness of both the patients as well as the surgeons to do the split. In our current allocation system, this is logistically cumbersome and so we do it infrequently. It is up to us in transplantation to develop strategies to enable centers to do it more often."
Maggie only found out she had Wilson's disease in November 2006 and seems to be the first person in her family to have the disease. Wilson's Disease is a genetic disorder that affects about 1 in 30-thousand people worldwide, according to the Wilson's Disease Association (www.wilsonsdisease.org). Healthy people are able to excrete naturally occurring copper that is present in their bodies. But in people with Wilson's disease copper begins to accumulate in the liver or the brain and can result in liver failure, psychiatric symptoms like suicidal behavior or depression or neurological symptoms like tremors. In all cases, Wilson's disease is fatal if it is not diagnosed and treated.
Media Contact: Marianne Worley
Patient Contact: 202-342-2400