Liver Transplant Death

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Last week a man, Ryan Arnold, underwent a living donor surgery, allowing the surgeons at University of Colorado Hospital to remove 60% of his liver in order to save his brother’s life.  Four days later Ryan Arnold died in the hospital. 

His brother, Chad Arnold, aged 38, had Primary Schlerosing Cholangitis, the same disease that nearly took my husband’s life.  Like John, those with PSC are likely candidates for living donor surgery.  The bile duct constrictions caused by the disease do not present in the same way as most liver disease, therefore not allowing the patient to reach a high enough level for the UNOS criteria (essentially the organ waiting list) to receive a liver.  If PSC patients wait long enough for their livers to fail, thereby jumping to the front of the UNOS line, they will most likely have other complications, such as bile duct cancer, that can prevent them from being a candidate for transplant.  That’s what happened to my husband, except that through his exceptional care at Mayo Clinic and the sheer luck that the cancer had not spread out of his bile ducts, he was saved. 

I am truly saddened by the news of Ryan Arnold’s death.  Reading about these two brothers reminds me of our own battle.  The Mayo Clinic chose my brother in-law, Whitney Meriwether, as the living donor (there were over twenty of us that signed up).  The donor process was pretty brutal.  We waited as they painstakingly tested and retested the potential donors.  Each time one of us was rejected, myself included, the news was devastating.  I kept expecting the cancer to spread before they found a donor.  And in fact, the day before the transplant the surgeon opened up John’s abdomen to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread.  Waiting to hear the results of that last test was the longest four hours of my life. 

When the surgeon reported the good news, she tempered it by saying that “Now, the hard part starts.” 

I scoffed.  Yeah, maybe for her.  But for us, our hard part was over.  We’d made it to the transplant.  The chemo and radiation had kept the cancer cells at bay.  My husband had maintained his weight–just barely–through a mostly liquid diet.  And somehow, both of us still held onto our sanity.

And the donor, Whitney, while a little nervous, was ready.  In fact, he’d been rejected twice and kept trying.  He lost weight and lowered his cholesterol level, transforming himself into his fighting weight.

I cannot imagine what the Arnold family must be going through.  Well, actually, I can imagine it, and it’s almost unthinkable.  But each time I read more about this story, I let myself feel it.  I cry for the survivors–for his wife, his children and mostly for Chad.  I cry for how close my family came to the same outcome. 

Bless the donors.  Bless Ryan for telling his brother that he “was worth it.”  Bless Whitney for stepping forward for John, regardless the cost. 

I truly hope that Ryan’s death will not stop living donor surgeries.  Instead, his death can add to the well of knowledge that doctors and surgeons draw from in order to keep saving lives. 

 Here’s the story as told by the Huffington Post.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/13/liver-transplant-death-ry_n_681883.html

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