Living Donation

Gary & Bob: Liver Transplant Patient Story

Gary and Bob

The Challenge: Hepatitis C

Gary Vamos has many titles: husband, father, and grandfather.

But the title ‘father-in-law’ would play a powerful role when Gary’s health took a turn for the worst.

After months of feeling ill and with multiple trips to the emergency room, no one knew exactly what was wrong with Gary.

Like the rest of Gary’s family, his son-in-law, Robert, was very concerned.

“Gary just started to get sick all the time and we didn’t know why,” says Robert. “My wife and I would see him in these states of an almost zombie-like zone. He was going in and out of sentences, not able to walk. He was a totally different person."

The Path to UPMC

After a knee surgery completed at UPMC, the root of the problem was discovered: Gary was diagnosed with hepatitis C, a liver disease carried within the blood. Although approximately three to six million people in the United States are infected with HCV, many, like Gary, are unaware that they might be carrying the virus, as it wasn’t discovered until 1989.

Hepatitis C can be spread through contact with infected blood, including receiving HCV-infected blood transfusions that were conducted before the diagnosis was discovered.

“He had several operations, and it never showed up, but when it did, his liver functions were elevated. They tested him further and traced it back to 1979 when he had a severe industrial compound fracture of the femur, and was given eight units of blood,” says Gary’s wife, Roseann. “He almost died then.”

However, in the years after the incident, Gary had no symptoms and appeared perfectly healthy but after having his gallbladder removed, doctors noticed that Gary’s liver had been very badly damaged.

“After the diagnosis, I was told I would need a liver transplant, because my liver was just so damaged,” says Gary.

The Solution: A Living-Donor Liver Transplant

After some hesitation, the couple finally broke the news to their family.

“We were sitting around the kitchen table, and that’s when we found out,” says Robert. “We didn’t know a liver transplant was even on the radar.”

With the number of people on the liver transplant waiting list increasing every day, the wait for a liver transplant can take months or even years. However, a living donor transplant offers hope to patients on the waiting list by allowing them to receive a transplant sooner.

“We were given information about the living donor program, which none of us were really aware of,” says Roseann. “I never knew someone could be a living donor. And that’s when my son-in-law just up and decided he would go and get tested.”

For Gary, it never was part of his plan to have to ask anyone to make such a sacrifice.

“I never considered asking Robert because my daughter was pregnant, and he was going to be away for a couple of weeks in Europe,” says Gary. “I just thought it was going to be too much of a burden that I never wanted to put on him.”

However, Robert was determined to do whatever he could to save Gary and their family.

“It was a no-brainer. I told him ‘let’s do it,” says Robert. “I never thought twice about it. It never crossed my mind that this wouldn’t be the right thing to do.”

Robert underwent a pre-transplant evaluation and it was concluded he was a perfect match. The two scheduled for surgery at UPMC Montefiore.

The Results: A Second Chance at Life

After a successful living-donor liver transplant, Robert and Gary stayed in the hospital for a little more than a week.

“I received part of his liver and I got out first—I won’t let him live it down,” laughs Gary. “It’s just kind of a thing we have between us.”

“He beat me out by a couple of hours,” says Robert. “I couldn’t believe it—but he’s a tough bird.”

Gary says that he is thankful for the doctors, nurses, and coordinators for making his experience the best it could be.

“The UPMC Liver Transplant Program is world-renowned. It never crossed my mind to go anywhere else,” says Gary. “I don’t think I could have asked for better care—before, during, and after the surgery. I am very happy I was able to get through it with UPMC right by my side.”

Today, Gary is back to work, and spending time with his family.

Robert returned to teaching and taking care of his wife and two daughters, one whom was born right after the surgery. He says he’s happy to see Gary doing so well.

“He can now do all the things that he did before the surgery,” says Robert. “He looks great and he says he feels great. It seems he’s back to his normal self, which is so heartwarming.”

Since the experience, Gary and Robert have a different outlook on life, and agree that their relationship is much stronger, although, the two shared a special connection prior to the transplant, Roseann says.

“Robert’s like a son to me. I don’t know how else to put it—he saved my life,” says Gary. “I am a lucky man.”

Gary and Bob's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.