Twenty-one month old Mattison Hall of Toccoa and 42-year-old Linda Eaves of Rockmart have made medical history in Georgia. While the two patients are completely unrelated, they now share parts of the same liver.
On Sept. 20, Thomas Heffron, M.D., associate professor of surgery, Emory University School of Medicine, director of pediatric liver transplantation at Egleston Children's Hospital, and transplant surgeon at Emory University Hospital, successfully split a donated cadaveric liver into two portions, providing both Ms. Eaves and Miss Hall with part of the same organ. Andrei Stieber, M.D., associate professor of surgery, Emory University School of Medicine, and liver transplant surgeon at Emory University Hospital, then transplanted the larger portion into Ms. Eaves at Emory, while Dr. Heffron took the left lateral segment of the liver and transplanted it into Miss Hall at Egleston.
Split-liver transplantation can only occur depending on certain factors. For example, the liver must be a relatively young, healthy liver. Secondly, the donated liver must weigh enough to support the recipients' bodies.
"The liver that was used for Linda and Mattison was very healthy, young and large enough in mass to be split," said Dr. Heffron. "What makes this type of procedure possible is the fact that the liver can partially regenerate itself. The portions now in the patients adapt to the patients' bodies and most likely will grow to be healthy, normal organs."
According to Dr. Heffron, young patients are in great need of split livers or living-related transplanted livers, due to a shortage of donors. Nearly 3,500 adults and 500 children need livers every year, but adult liver transplants occur more frequently. Most donor livers are too large for children.
"This type of transplantation will enable a lot more children to be transplanted in Georgia and the Southeast," Dr. Heffron said. "It will also mean a shorter waiting period for children and consequently a lower mortality rate." Currently, 20 percent of patients less than 1 year of age in the United States die before a donor liver has been found.
This is the second time in the past year that the Emory team has made medical history in Georgia. The last time was in March when the team successfully completed Georgia's first living-related liver transplant. Both mother (donor) and son (recipient) are doing extremely well.