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Terry Sutton: Liver Transplant Patient Story

Terry Sutton gives a thumb up signal and smiles enthusiastically. He has short hair and wears a black sweatshirt.

The Challenge

In April 2015, Terry Sutton was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer and had his descending and sigmoid colon removed including five inches of his rectum. About a year later, UPMC surgeons removed the tumor on his liver, however, within four months, Terry had recurrence of the cancer in his liver where four new tumors were identified. Three of the tumors were removed along with portions of the liver, but the fourth tumor could not be removed as it was too close to the vena cava, the largest vein in the body that carries blood from the legs, feet, and abdominal organs, including the liver.  

Terry stayed on chemotherapy to help shrink the remaining tumor, and for the next year, no other cancer appeared in his body except for the unresectable tumor on his liver. For this, he underwent additional ablation treatments, but the tumor was continuing to grow. Terry’s doctors felt confident that the only remaining cancer in his body was in the liver. But the only way to eliminate the tumor would be to remove the liver completely and replace it during a liver transplant.

The Path to Liver Transplant

Doctors at UPMC told Terry that a liver transplant was his only option, or he could go through chemotherapy for the rest of his life. They also told him that without a liver transplant or constant chemotherapy, Terry would only have about six months to live.

“I am not going to live the rest of my life with chemotherapy, so I said I will explore having a liver transplant,” said Terry.

“After talking with UPMC about their living donor program, I realized I wanted to go through with the transplant.”

Following his evaluation at UPMC in Pittsburgh, Pa, Terry was ready for his liver transplant. However, he needed to find a living donor.

“My wife, Brenda, my son, and three of my son’s friends were all rejected during evaluation for different reasons,” said Terry.

“My neighbor, Danielle, was talking to my wife and she asked her if I still needed a liver transplant. She told her my story and she wanted to be evaluated as soon as possible.”

After traveling to Pittsburgh to be evaluated, Danielle called Terry and told him the news that she was going to be his living donor.

“It was unbelievable to be honest. Everything came together at once and it was almost unreal,” said Terry.

“I was so happy that she was willing to help me.”

A New Life

The day before the surgery, Danielle and Terry had dinner together in Pittsburgh where they met for the first time. 

“She was doing this for me. Danielle is a beautiful person and just simply wanted to give back to people who need it,” said Terry.

Terry and Danielle underwent their surgeries in May 2019 and are both doing great in their recoveries.

Doctors removed Terry’s diseased liver and portion of his vena cava, transplanted Danielle’s liver into him, and reconstructed his vena cava using veins donated from a deceased donor.

“If you are going through something like this, please don’t be afraid to ask for help,” said Terry.

“Put your pride aside and let people help you. Don’t ever think that you’re weak, because you’re dealing with a beast of a disease, and you need a team to help you conquer it.”

This experience has affected Terry in such a way, that he started an organization to help inspire and educate people going through their own cancer journey. 

“With a little bit of education and research, we can show people that they can get through that point in their lives,” said Terry.

“I just wanted to create a place where cancer patients and caregivers can receive hope, healing, education, and relief from the day-to-day stresses of dealing with cancer to live a better quality of life while searching for a cure.”