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 continued for hours and he started to feel extremely weak. He had no idea what was wrong.

Far away from home, he visited an emergency care center, hoping for an easy fix, but doctors were concerned that his bleeding may have been caused by something more serious. They urged him to follow up with doctors back home in Pittsburgh. Doug was diagnosed with cirrhosis 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 gradually, Doug had been living with the disease for years before experiencing any symptoms.

Because of this progression, doctors told Doug and his wife Grace that a transplant would be necessary.

“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 with doctors doing everything they could to get him healthy enough to be placed 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 be a candidate for liver transplant, and there wasn’t much else that could be done.

In December 2017, Grace went out to run some errands. She arrived home to find Doug hemorrhaging and he was life-flighted to UPMC Montefiore. He spent 13 days in the intensive care unit and another 17 days recovering in the hospital. He would need a miracle to survive.

The Solution: Living-Donor Liver Transplant

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

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

Doug and Grace were unsure 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 to spread Doug’s story. She shared his 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-liver donation was possible, she couldn’t stop thinking about donating a portion of her liver to Doug, especially after attending church one Sunday.

“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 directly to her and she knew she needed to be evaluated 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 evaluation, Barb had been determined as a medical match for Doug and decided to donate a portion of her liver to save his life.

Doug and Grace weren’t even aware that Barb was going through the evaluation process, but when they read the card and understood what was happening, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

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

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

Doug and Grace drove to Virginia Beach and Cincinnati to visit their grandkids, something they haven’t been able to do for the past five years because of Doug’s sickness.

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.