Liver transplant possibilities increase with living donor procedure
Doctors are offering living donors a less-invasive surgery for liver transplants.
Posted: 4:16 PM May 28, 2010
Reporter: Maureen McFadden

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There are more than 106,000 people waiting for a liver transplant. and less than 15,000 available donors.

Doctors want to turn those numbers around by offering living donors a less-invasive surgery.

The new transplant helped an entire family survive the scare of their life. They share the same smile, same sense of humor, and now, the same liver.

Lila was born with a disease that damaged her liver. Surgery at two-months-old didn't fix the problem, so she needed a transplant. Her dad, Jim was first in line to donate.

"Number one, Lillian had already suffered through the delivery, so I figured, let me get a hole cut in me. It's my turn, my turn for some pain,” said Jim.

They turned to Dr. Ben Samstein, who is one of the first surgeons in the U.S. to perform a minimally invasive liver transplant from an adult to a child.

"There's one center in Korea performing this and the procedure was developed in France,” says Dr. Samstein.

Instead of a 25-centimeter cut from chest to belly button, surgeons make five one-inch cuts across the donor's stomach and one small cut across the lower abdomen to retrieve the organ.

15-percent of Jim Hone's liver is now growing and thriving in his daughter.

Jim responded well, too. Instead of the traditional transplant where donors spend six weeks laid up, Jim was back on his feet in about two weeks, which was especially important for a family dealing with two patients.

Lila doesn't miss a beat, but her dad will always remind her, she's carrying around a piece of him.

"It's good leverage for when she's a teenager: 'Well, you know, I can always take it back!’” jokes Jim.

The piece of liver will grow as Lila grows and it should be normal size when she's adult.

Surgeons say patients who receive livers from a living donor do better, but only five-percent of liver transplants use this method because it takes such a toll on the donor.

Doctors hope offering a minimally-invasive approach will lead to more living donors.