The Challenge: Liver Cancer
On Feb. 28, 2017, Barb Bowser received news that would change her life forever – she was diagnosed with liver cancer. After enduring extensive treatment to remove the cancerous tumors, Barb was once again given a terrifying diagnosis. She was going to need a liver transplant.
She met with the UPMC Liver Transplant Team, including Christopher Hughes, MD, for the extensive evaluation to determine is she was a candidate for the transplant waiting list. But with more than 14,000 people on the waiting list for a liver transplant, she was informed that the wait could be years before receiving a liver transplant.
“When I talked to Dr. Hughes and he said it would be a few years, I was in a state of shock,” Barb said.
Despite being very sick, Barb was still too healthy to be placed on the transplant waiting list. Her Model for End-stage Liver Disease (MELD) score, which is based on a patient’s current health status and how urgently he or she needs a transplant, was too low.
Depending on the MELD score, some patients may remain on the transplant waiting list until a deceased-donor organ becomes available. Because there aren’t enough deceased-donor organs available to meet the growing demand, many people on the waiting list die before receiving a transplant. Luckily for Barb, there was another option.
The Path to Living Donation at UPMC
Dr. Hughes suggested that Barb consider a living-donor liver transplant. During a living-donor liver transplant, a portion of a healthy donor’s liver is transplanted into the recipient to replace their unhealthy liver. The liver has the unique ability to regenerate, making this surgery possible.
Barb appreciated that she could take control of her situation and try to find a donor herself, rather than waiting until a deceased-donor liver was available. She decided to pursue living donation.
Barb didn’t have anyone in mind to be her donor, so her cousin set up a Facebook page to share her situation with family and friends. Spreading her story was the best chance to find a living donor.
The Solution: A Living Donor in the Making
About a year before Barb learned that she needed a transplant, Danielle Seger was browsing Facebook when she came across the UPMC and Donate Life: Living Donor Transplant page. She learned that living-liver donation was possible and thought it would be an incredible way to help someone.
Time passed, and Danielle didn’t think much about living donation until she saw a post about Barb’s story. After looking at the page, she realized that Barb was a friend of her parents. Seeing Barb’s story so close to home made Danielle realize she wanted to be evaluated to be a living donor, and possibly save Barb’s life.
She was evaluated in November 2017, and a few days before Thanksgiving, Danielle got the incredible news that she could be Barb’s donor.
Though she hadn’t met Barb in person yet, Danielle was extremely excited to tell Barb and called her immediately after finding out.
“I couldn’t keep it in any longer!” Danielle said.
The Results: A Life Saved
Barb and Danielle’s living donor transplant was a success. Barb believes that Danielle saved her life and is extremely thankful for the sacrifice Danielle made on her behalf.
“I could never ever thank her enough, or ever repay her,” Barb said.
Danielle expressed the joy she felt when she saw pictures of Barb with her family and friends. All the thanks she needs is seeing Barb enjoying life and being healthy again.
“I was very blessed to find a donor before I hit rock bottom,” Barb said.
Barb wants people to know the importance of living donation because if she had waited on the list for a deceased-donor liver, she may not have recovered as quickly or as easily.
Danielle gave her the chance to get healthy without getting sicker first.
“It’s not for everyone, and it is a huge decision, but you can change someone’s life,” Danielle said. “You can save a life.”
Barb and Danielle’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.