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Living liver donor program performs first transplant

Posted by Matt Batcheldor on Friday, March 19, 2021 in Around the Medical Center, Spring 2021 .

Tammy Burnett’s life was threatened by cirrhosis of the liver and she desperately needed a transplant. She got on the waiting list at multiple centers, but feared she might die because of the limited supply of matching livers from deceased donors, which could take years to arrive, if ever.

Last year, Burnett learned about the just-launched living liver donor program at the Vanderbilt Transplant Center, which allows relatives and friends to donate part of their livers to their loved ones, something only possible at select centers in the country. The resulting partial livers in the donor and recipient have the ability to regenerate to become fully functional organs, typically within six weeks.

Her son, Sam, stepped up to donate part of his liver, and in March 2020, the two became part of the first living donor liver transplant at Vanderbilt since restarting the program last year. (Vanderbilt previously performed living donor liver transplants in the early 2000s.)

“We thought that this was a great opportunity because we felt that the risk of his mother waiting on the list was increasing, and we were worried that she was going to die without a liver transplant,” said Sophoclis Alexopoulos, MD, chief of Liver Transplantation and associate professor of Surgery. “This was a great opportunity for her son to do something for his mother and save her life.”

The Vanderbilt Transplant Center has since successfully performed two other living donor transplants, with excellent outcomes in donors and recipients.

A living liver donation gives the recipient the opportunity to receive an organ sooner. People on the transplant list regularly wait months to years to receive an organ from a deceased donor.

“This is a real option,” Alexopoulos said. “We’re continuing to encourage people to consider it and come forward with it so that we can try and save people’s lives, so that we don’t have people dying waiting for a liver.”