The Challenge: Alcoholic Cirrhosis
Dean Biddle had struggled against his alcoholism for years when he was diagnosed with alcoholic cirrhosis.
He tried everything to overcome his addiction.
After a few months of remission, Dean was hopeful that he had conquered his disease. He thought his life was back on track, but he relapsed again and ended up in the hospital. As a team of doctors approached his bed, he could see the worry in their faces.
“They told me I needed to change my life, or I wouldn’t make it three months,” Dean said. “But also, in my current state, I couldn’t be listed for a transplant. I had to stay sober for six months to even be considered.”
The Path to Living Donation at UPMC
For the rest of 2017, Dean was battling for his life and his sobriety. Through UPMC, he had access to a wide range of addiction medicine services and programs. He was attending addiction counseling services and regularly having fluid drained from his limbs, trying to keep up with his liver disease. He spent this entire time with one goal: get healthy enough to be a candidate for the transplant list.
In January 2018, his hard work paid off.
He was listed on the liver transplant waiting list and started a Facebook page hoping to find himself a liver donor through social media.
But he was struggling. He felt responsible for his liver failure. He kept asking himself the same question: “Who would want to give their liver to a recovering alcoholic?”
He hoped Facebook would give him his answer.
The Solution: An Altruistic Stranger Donates His Liver
John Simpson, a man who lived in New York, had already been evaluated as a donor by UPMC and approved for the procedure. He just wanted to find someone to help.
“I like helping people,” John said, “I just wanted to save a life.”
He posted on a liver transplant Facebook group, asking if anyone needed a donor and it was Dean who responded. They spoke for a while over Facebook and about a month later John was approved to donate to Dean.
He called Dean with the news: “If you want my liver, you’re welcome to it.”
At first, Dean couldn’t believe it. “It didn’t register at first,” Dean said, “I made him repeat it.” He kept asking John why he was doing it. He had trouble believing that people like John existed, people willing to undergo surgery to save a stranger. At the same time, he felt such relief.
On the night before surgery, the two of them had a light dinner and got to know each other.
On May 14, 2018, John donated his liver to save Dean’s life.
The Result: A New Friendship
For Dean, recovery seemed like it went fast. After being so sick for so long, he was ready to get back to his normal life.
John struggled more during recovery. He was a marathon runner, normally very healthy, whose liver was growing back, so recovery required a little bit of a learning curve. Both men pushed through, supported by each other and by their caregivers, until they were able to leave the hospital.
Today, they keep in touch and meet up whenever they can, even though they live hours apart.
“It’s been a tremendous blessing to understand what the living donor process does for people,” John said, “There’s not a question in my mind that if I could donate again, I would. Helping people is what it’s about.”
Now about a year after his transplant, Dean is two years sober and forever grateful.
“I feel great. I’m so lucky that a person like John came into my life.”
Dean and John’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.