Skip to Content

Brian and Dan: Living-Donor Liver Transplant Patient Story

Brian and Dan

Brian and Dan have been intertwined throughout much of their lives. They first met when they worked at a factory together at a young age and have remained good friends ever since.

When Brian was added to the liver transplant waiting list due to non-alcoholic cirrhosis in July 2022, their lives became intertwined more than ever before. That’s because Dan registered to donate a portion of his liver to Brian, and after a thorough evaluation showed that Dan was a match to donate, the two longtime friends underwent a successful living-donor liver transplant in October 2022.

“I just can’t believe that this happened so quickly, and that Dan, who’s a real good friend of mine now, did this for me,” Brian says.

The Condition: Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is characterized by scarring of the liver, which makes it hard for the organ to filter blood from the digestive tract, one of its primary functions. When the liver can’t perform this function, people with the condition can experience a host of complications.

Brian experienced ascites, or buildup of fluid in the abdominal cavity, which more than 50% of people with cirrhosis develop. He experienced other symptoms as well, including weight gain and swollen feet.

The Path to the UPMC Liver Transplant Program

Brian works as a certified water treatment plant operator in Danville, Pa. He also served as fire chief for 16 years at his local fire department.

After his diagnosis in 2014, Brian and his family wanted to receive the best care possible with a center that offered living-donor liver transplant. At the time of his diagnosis, the center he was at did not offer this treatment option.

Living donation is a first-line treatment option for end-stage liver disease which involves a person donating a portion of their healthy liver to someone in need of a transplant. Because of the liver’s unique ability to grow back, someone can safely donate a portion of their liver to someone in need of a transplant.

“Through research between my wife and myself, we found UPMC. Members of my family told me ‘If you have a liver issue, you need to be at UPMC,’” Brian says.

Brian and his family later attended a seminar on living-donor liver transplant at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., hosted by Swaytha Ganesh, MD, medical director of the UPMC Living Donor Program.

“My wife and I went to that seminar, and when we left that night, we knew UPMC was where we needed to be,” Brian says. “We immediately made an appointment to see Dr. Ganesh.”

Dr. Ganesh and the team at the Liver Transplant Evaluation Clinic at UPMC Williamsport managed Brian’s condition for several years until it was time for him to be added to the liver transplant waiting list in summer 2022. The clinic allowed him to receive the care he needed close to home.

A Lifelong Friend Steps Up to Help

Brian and Dan have stayed in contact since the years that they worked together. When Brian told Dan he was diagnosed with cirrhosis, feelings from a previous tragic experience came rushing back to Dan.

Years before Brian’s diagnosis, Dan’s father-in-law died of liver disease while on the liver transplant waiting list – an experience that has stuck with him ever since.

“Brian and I would talk about his condition periodically, I would never ask a whole bunch of questions,” Dan says. “I always told him I would be there to help if I could, even if it was just by being a listening ear.”

Dan checked in with Brian periodically. Whenever he wanted to talk about his condition, Dan would listen.

“This went on for about eight years or so, and then in summer 2022, we were on the phone, and I asked, ‘What’s going on?’ He said, ‘I’m not doing so good; it’s time for me to be on the transplant waiting list,’” Dan says.

Brian told Dan that his options were either to receive a deceased-donor liver transplant or a living-donor liver transplant.

“He explained the living donation process to me, and in my mind, I’m thinking, ‘I’m doing this if I’m a match,’” Dan says.

Dan let Brian know his intention to register to be his living donor. After he registered, he attended an evaluation with the team at UPMC, and the testing showed that he was a match to donate to Brian.

He remembers feeling overwhelmed at the possibility of being able to save the life of someone he cares about. When the team identified a date for the procedure, Dan surprised Brian with the news at his house.

“Dan and I were having a conversation, and he asked me, ‘Hey, what are you doing on Oct. 24?’” Brian says.

After looking at his wife, Brian looked back at Dan and said, “I don’t think anything, why?”

Dan told Brian to keep the date open because he had been approved to be his living donor.

It was an emotional moment for everyone. “There wasn’t a dry eye in my house,” Dan says.

The Result: Intertwined to this Day

Brian and Dan underwent a successful living-donor liver transplant at UPMC. Brian remembers noticing a difference in how he felt just a few days after the procedure. Since then, he has gradually felt a little bit better with each passing week.

“Health-wise, I feel healthier than I’ve felt in a long time,” Brian says. “I actually feel like I’m about 10 years younger. You don’t realize how sick you were until you start feeling better.”

Brian experienced a few setbacks after the transplant, and he had some difficulty getting adjusted to the anti-rejection medication he needs so that his body doesn’t reject the new liver.

But, according to Brian, nothing surprised his care team, which included Dr. Ganesh; Abhinav Humar, MD, chief of UPMC Transplant Services; Christopher Hughes, MD, surgical director of the UPMC Liver Transplant Program; and the team at the Liver Transplant Evaluation Clinic at UPMC Williamsport.

Brian says, “My bile duct leaked, which my care team said could happen. When something did happen, it didn’t surprise the team. They were always ahead of the game.”

Now, Brian and Dan are both back home with their families. He’s grateful for the support he received from his family and hometown.

“And, to this day, when people see me and they ask how I’m doing, the next question out of their mouth is, ‘How’s Dan?’” Brian says. “So, we’re kind of intertwined with each other.”

Brian and Dan’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.