The Challenge: Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
A married man working lots of overtime and managing a diabetes diagnosis, Dwayne Fitzgerald was always tired. But he didn’t know why. He thought it was just life.
One Spring day in 2016, he left work early, feeling incredibly sick. He went home thinking he had the flu. But when his wife tried to wake him for dinner, she got no response. Terrified, she rushed him to the hospital.
Several days later, when Dwayne woke up, he and his family received devastating news.
“To fall asleep in your own bed and wake up in a different city in intensive care. That’s a shock to your system,” said Dwayne. “And then the doctors tell you that you’re in liver failure. That was quite the wake-up call.”
Confused and shocked, Dwayne learned that he would need a liver transplant if he was going to survive.
The Path to UPMC for a Liver Transplant
First, Dwayne wanted to know how his liver had gotten in such a bad state. He also wanted to know what he needed to do to get healthy again.
He had a long talk with Dr. Malik, a UPMC gastroenterologist, about his treatment options.
One option they discussed was living-donor liver transplant. It would allow Dwayne to receive a liver sooner by finding a suitable living donor.
During a living-donor liver transplant, surgeons remove part of a healthy donor’s liver and transplant it into the sick patient. The liver’s unique ability to grow back in a few months, in both the donor and recipient, makes this transplant possible.
After his talk with Dr. Malik, Dwayne knew he was in good hands at UPMC.
“The folks in Pittsburgh knew what they were talking about. And they were going to do what they could to help,” said Dwayne.
The Solution: The Gift of Life, From a Stranger
Dwayne and his donor's living donor transplant story actually began over thirty years ago.
Brian Allen's wife received a life-saving liver transplant in 1985, and it inspired him to become a donor. So thankful for the gift that saved his wife’s life, Brian wanted to do something to pay it forward.
“I had lived with the outcome of liver transplant for more than half my life,” said Brian Allen. “Because of my wife, I had seen first-hand how one liver donation had ripple effects that affected thousands of people.”
Brian, who lived in New York, chose to donate a portion of his liver to someone in need at UPMC.
Without ever meeting, Brian and Dwayne had a successful living donor transplant on June 12, 2017.
Not knowing who he was donating to was a surreal feeling for Brian.
“We knew whoever got my liver was on the same floor in the same wing. But we didn’t know who it was,” Brian said.
For Dwayne, the support he received at UPMC overwhelmed him.
“The nurses and everyone in my care did a wonderful job as far as explaining things. And they had compassion, which I thought was extremely wonderful,” said Dwayne.
The Results: A New Outlook on Life
“Every day was twice as good as the day before,” said Brian, speaking about his recovery. “After two or three days, I was walking and eating regular food. The first thing I ate was a grilled cheese, and it tasted phenomenal.”
Just a few weeks after donating his liver, Brian started working from home.
Today, Brian has a busy schedule. He has his own IT business, works another full-time job, and runs a cross-fit gym that he owns.
Despite his busy schedule, Brian made time to travel to Pittsburgh a few months after the surgery to meet Dwayne. They spent some time on the town together and even went to the Pittsburgh Zoo.
“It was an emotional experience to meet him,” Brian said. “It really reminded me to enjoy some of the little things in life.”
Dwayne has returned to work and feels much like Brian about his transplant journey.
“I look at things a little differently now. You definitely can’t take your health for granted. The biggest change is that I’m still here.”
Brian said he would donate again.
“What’s a couple months of discomfort to give another person 40 to 50 years of life?” he said.
Dwayne and Brian’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.
Learn More About Liver Disease and Living Donation
UPMC Center for Liver Diseases:
UPMC's HealthBeat Blog: