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George and Diana MacDonald: Living-Donor Liver Transplant Patient Story

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The Challenge: Cirrhosis

For three years, George MacDonald fought cirrhosis — an illness in which scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue.

The disease leads to:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Easy bruising
  • A yellow tint to the skin and eyes

One night, George woke up struggling to breathe and rushed to a doctor. The doctor cleared fluid from George’s lungs and diagnosed him with pneumonia.

Because of his failing health, he had to attend his daughter’s graduation in a wheelchair.

While he was sick, George lost a lot of weight, dropping to 130 pounds.

And — at over six feet tall — he says, “I was like a walking skeleton.”

His daughter, Diana, saw he was getting sicker. As a nurse working at UPMC Passavant, she had some sense of what he was going through, and she wanted to help. But she wasn’t sure how.

The Path to Living-Donor Liver Transplant at UPMC

George had his ups and downs. Sometimes, he felt fine. Other times, he felt so sick that even basic tasks felt impossible.

Wanting to get back to his normal life, he had a pre-transplant appointment and tests at UPMC. Doctors placed George on the liver transplant waiting list but told him it could be many years before he’d receive a transplant.

Almost 14,000 people are on the U.S. liver transplant waiting list for a deceased donor. Some will not receive their transplant in time. But there’s another option for people with end-stage liver disease: living-donor liver transplantation.

At UPMC, we believe in the power of living donation. We discuss it with every person we assess for a liver transplant.

That’s how George learned about living-donor liver transplant, and he felt it was his best option.

During living-donor transplant, a surgeon removes part of the donor’s healthy liver and transplants it into the person with a failing liver. Both livers return to full size in just a few months, making this transplant possible.

A living-donor liver transplant would reduce George’s long wait on the waiting list, so he could get back to feeling healthy sooner.

The Solution: A Daughter Makes A Selfless Gift

Diana was driving when she got the call – her father needed a transplant and was looking for a living donor.

Right away, Diana knew she wanted to have the tests to see if she could be a donor for her father. But the thought made her feel nervous and overcome with emotion. She had never had surgery before, and she worried that it would be painful.

It was hard to see her father suffer, but the decision to donate is a serious one.

She drove on and came to a stoplight, where she got the sign she was looking for.

“There was a car in front of me with at least 10 bumper stickers. They said, ‘Donate Life’ and ‘Become an Organ Donor.’ That was my sign to at least get the evaluation,” Diana said.

At her appointment, she had a physical and psychological exam, blood work, and other tests. After she found out she was a suitable donor, she decided to give.

“I didn’t even have to ask her. She did it all on her own,” George said, “I didn’t even know.”

On Nov. 6, 2017, George and Diana had a successful living-donor liver transplant.

After the surgery, their friends and family all wanted to visit, but Diana says, “We just wanted to sleep. We told them, ‘We’ll see you after!’”

George and Diana spent about a week in the hospital before heading home.

The Result: One Year Later, Both Are Better Off

The healing process was a challenge, but George is back to his old life.

During recovery, Diana says she slept a lot for the first three weeks, and it surprised her how easily she got winded.

“Walking to the bathroom felt like a marathon!” she joked.

But she also said that the pain was not as bad as she expected.

A year later, George and Diana are both back to full health and their normal lives.

Now that trips to the bathroom are no longer a workout, Diana routinely goes to the gym. And George sees recovery as a life-long journey. But he feels better than he has in years, all thanks to Diana’s decision to become his living donor.

“If I could I would do it again. It was all worth it,” Diana said.

George and Diana’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.

Learn More About Living-Donor Liver Transplant

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