Living Donation

Doug Battles and Barb Karner: Living-Donor Liver Transplant Patient Story

Doug Battles and Barb Karner: Living-Donor Liver Transplant Patient Story

The Challenge: Cirrhosis of the Liver

Doug Battles was traveling for work when he woke up with a nosebleed. Thinking nothing of it, he took a shower and got ready, but his nose wouldn’t stop bleeding.

He drove to work, but his boss sent him back to the motel to rest and try to stop the bleeding. The bleeding kept on for hours, and Doug started to feel extremely weak. He had no idea what was wrong.

Far from home, he went to an emergency care center hoping for an easy fix. But doctors were concerned that something more serious might have caused his bleeding. They urged him to follow up with doctors back home in Pittsburgh.

Doctors diagnosed Doug with cirrhosis of the liver in January 2013.

Cirrhosis occurs when scar tissue replaces healthy tissue in the liver, preventing the liver from working properly.

Doug’s nosebleed was the first visible sign of the disease, caused by hemorrhaging of the liver. Since the disease progresses so slowly, Doug had been living with it for years before having any symptoms.

Because of the advanced state of the disease, doctors told Doug and his wife Grace that he would need a transplant.

“There is no one prepared to hear those words, that you need a liver transplant,” Grace said.

The Path to Living Donation at UPMC

Doug spent five years in and out of the hospital. Doctors were doing all they could to get him healthy enough for placement on the liver transplant waiting list.

Without a transplant, Doug wouldn’t make it. But his Model for End-stage Liver Disease (MELD) score was too low to get on the waiting list. There wasn’t much else doctors could do.

In December 2017, Grace went out to run some errands. She came home to find Doug hemorrhaging, and soon a helicopter life-flighted him to UPMC Montefiore.

Doug spent 13 days in the ICU and another 17 days recovering in the hospital.

The Solution: Living-Donor Liver Transplant

The wait for a liver transplant may take years, so Doug and Grace started focusing on finding a living donor.

During a living-donor liver transplant, a surgeon removes part of the liver from a healthy donor. The surgeon then transplants it into another person to replace the unhealthy liver. Both livers grow back to their full size and function within a few months.

Doug and Grace weren't sure how to find a donor, so they attended a UPMC Living Donor Champion workshop. They learned how effective social media can be when searching for a living donor, so Grace set up a Facebook page. She shared Doug’s story as far as she could, praying they would find a donor in time.

Barb Karner, an old family friend, saw Grace’s post on Facebook. After learning that living donation was possible, she couldn’t stop thinking about giving part of her liver to Doug.

Then, one Sunday at church, Barb she got a sign.

“The minister had a message that day. If you’re waiting for a sign to help somebody, this is it. This is the sign you’ve been waiting for,” Barb said.

She felt as if the minister was speaking right to her. She knew she needed to have an evaluation to be Doug’s living donor.

“I couldn’t let him die, knowing that I could do something,” Barb said.

The Results: A Miracle Come True

One night, Barb visited Doug and Grace at their home with members of their family. She handed Doug and Grace a card that read, “Congratulations on your new liver! Coming February 2018!”

After a thorough transplant assessment, Barb learned she was a medical match for Doug. She decided to donate a portion of her liver to save his life.

Doug and Grace weren’t even aware Barb was going through the pre-transplant process. But when they read the card and grasped what was happening, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

“It was the best news we’ve ever heard,” Doug said.

Barb and Doug had successful surgery on Feb. 15, 2018, and both are now back to their normal lives. Barb exercises regularly and feels back to her usual self.

Doug and Grace drove to Virginia Beach and Cincinnati to visit their grandkids, something they couldn’t do during Doug’s five-year illness.

Grace still can’t believe how well Doug is doing. She looks at him and jokes, “Who are you and where’s my husband?”

She was used to him being sick and taking care of him, so seeing him healthy again is a blessing.

“We are both forever grateful to Barb for giving Doug his life back,” Grace said. “Doug’s miracle came true that night she handed us that card.”

Learn more about becoming a living donor, like Barb.

Doug and Barb’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.

Learn More About Living-Donor Liver Transplant

From our HealthBeat blog: