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One donated liver changes two young lives

Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago does its first dual transplant, putting segments of the same organ into a high school senior and a 2-year-old.

December 25, 2009|By Kristen Mack

Reporting from Chicago — Christian Liberto's daily regimen consisted of a cocktail of 22 pills.

The high school senior, who suffered from a chronic liver disorder, was too weak to play sports, spent much of the day in bed and had yet to make plans for college because he didn't know whether he would live long enough to attend.

Liberto, one of two transplant recipients of the same liver, cried this week as he struggled to get out a few words about his yearlong wait for the organ.

"Before, I didn't want to do anything. I gave up," said Liberto, 17. "This whole thing changed me."

In a first for Children's Memorial Hospital here, doctors performed transplants on Liberto and Frank Sroka, 2, using segments from the same liver. The hospital said that the boys have the same blood type, making them ideal candidates for the procedure.

Liberto suffered from a rare chronic liver disease caused by progressive inflammation and scarring of the bile ducts. At 6 weeks old, Frank was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a fatal disease that blocks the function of the bile ducts.

The eight-hour operations were performed simultaneously last week by a team of 16 surgeons, anesthesiologists and transplant nurses.

Dr. Riccardo Superina, the surgeon who led the transplants, said it was "iffy" whether the procedure could be done. They didn't know until they were an hour into the operation on Sroka, the primary recipient, whether the liver would split successfully.

The surgical method is not new, but if it were used more often, it could change the way organ waiting lists are managed.

"Allowing two patients to benefit from one donor," Dr. Estella Alonso of Children's Memorial said, "allows us to expand the transplant pool."

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