They were two patients who couldn’t have been more different: one was a baby boy less than a year old, the other a retired physician. They even had vastly different medical conditions — one’s illness had come on suddenly when he was just a few months old, the other had been managing his worsening health condition for more than 15 years. Yet both needed the same life-saving remedy: a liver transplant.
In my story for Stanford Children’s Health, I wrote about Noah Hernandez, born in February 2017, and James Howell, MD, born in 1955, whose lives were saved by liver transplants that came from a single donor organ.
It can be hard to find organ donors, especially for small babies who need baby-sized organs that will fit their tiny veins and grow with their body. But, thanks to an uncommon procedure that divides a single liver for transplant into two recipients, both Hernandez and Howell got the treatment their lives depended on, as I described in the article:
Carlos Esquivel, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Abdominal Transplantation at Stanford University School of Medicine and director of the Liver Transplant Program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, was among the first surgeons to do transplants in children — especially tiny babies — and has been doing them for nearly three decades. When the industry advanced to using split-livers, it was a leap that made sense, he says, because of the difficulty in finding pediatric donors.
“Because of the shape of the liver, it is common to split it between recipients of varying ages,” says Dr. Esquivel. “The anatomy of the liver is such that what we call the right lobe amounts to about two-thirds of the entire liver volume. So, let’s say it’s a three-pound liver: the adult will get about two and half pounds, and the child one-half pound.”
Today, the two patients have more in common than they would have ever imagined: a shared liver, for one, and a bright, healthy future.
Photo by Katherine Emery