In April 2019, University Health Transplant Center performed the first living liver paired exchange in the United States, making it possible for two people to save the lives of someone they had never met.
Organ exchanges involving more than two patients occur routinely with kidney donors and recipients. But liver transplants are more complex.
Before, patients with end-stage liver disease had to wait for a deceased donor’s organ to become available, resulting in far too many dying on the waiting list because a match never occurred in time. Fortunately, the liver has the amazing ability to regenerate after a portion is removed and donated, and living donor liver donation became possible in the early 2000s. This allowed a loved one to undergo the complicated process of donating a portion of their liver to a person in need.
Today, University Health’s living donor liver transplantation program, which started in 2014, is the second largest living donor liver program in the country and one of only a handful in Texas. It is now the first in the country to successfully undertake the complicated process of identifying compatible donors and recipients in an exchange that involves four patients.
The four patients involved in this historic milestone are all doing well, and have become very close. Sarah D’Angelo needed a liver transplant, and her friend Natasha Sanchez had stepped forward offering to be her living donor. Mark Blair also needed a new liver and his daughter Anna Moreno had agreed to donate, but soon learned she wasn’t a “match.” Under the leadership of Dr. Tarunjeet S. Klair with University Health’s Transplant Center, the team took the novel approach of looking at the foursome to see if Sanchez was compatible with Blair, and D’Angelo was a match for Moreno. Once they discovered they were, they made four calls, explained their idea and got four “yeses.” Together, the four represent a groundbreaking new front in the advancement of living liver transplantation.