Liver transplants can come from living donors.
After an autoimmune disease attacked Julie Hess’ liver, doctors said she needed a transplant. But on the deceased donor list, she faced waiting years.
Her nephew said he’d give her much of his liver, becoming one of a record nine living liver donors at UW Hospital last year. The hospital did 125 liver transplants overall, also a record.
“He’s my knight in shining armor,” said Hess, 58, of Berlin.
“If you have the power to help someone, why wouldn’t you?” said her nephew, Landen Wilke, 26, of Green Bay.
Dr. Luis Fernandez, UW’s surgical director of liver transplants, said the hospital expanded its living liver donor program in recent years to help patients who may not be able to get deceased donor transplants quickly enough to save their lives.
“You get tired of seeing patients wasting away and suffering,” Fernandez said. “This is a great way to get them transplanted.”
A liver is the only organ that can completely regenerate, allowing people to donate up to 70 percent of their single livers and regain full function within months. But the procedure is more complex, and the risks are greater, than living kidney donation, so it isn’t done as often. People have two kidneys.
Nationally, 367, or 4.5 percent, of a record 8,082 liver transplants last year were from living donors, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Among a record 19,848 kidney transplants, 5,811, or 29.3 percent, were from living donors.
At UW Hospital, the nine living donors accounted for 7.2 percent of the 125 liver transplants. Living donors were involved in 97, or 34.5 percent, of 281 kidney transplants.
In 2001 and 2002, the hospital performed six liver transplants from living donors each year. But it did only a few more over all of the years until 2015, when it did six that year and two in 2016 before doing nine last year.
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