Working on Christmas is a tradition for Jefferson transplant surgeon Warren R. Maley, MD, and one that his family has grown accustom to, although it often means he spends the holiday in the operating room apart from them.
The reward, however, goes far beyond anything anyone can purchase.
“Over the past 20 years I’ve probably performed 15 transplants on Christmas Day,” says Dr. Maley, director of Jefferson’s Live Donor Liver Transplant Program.
Participating in any life-saving transplant is a special event: it provides someone in need with a new chance at a healthy life with his or her loved ones. Doing so on Christmas is particularly gratifying and a reminder both of the tremendous gift of life a donor makes as well as the momentous nature of receiving such a donation, Dr. Maley says.
One such case actually involved two recipients who would both receive a Christmas liver transplant from the same donor in what is called a split-liver transplant. Because the liver can regenerate –the only organ that can do so – donor organs can be split into two parts and transplanted into two different recipients.
Generally, split-liver transplants are done when one of the recipients is a child. But in this case, the primary recipient of the liver was a small man, Edictor.
Dr. Maley recalls that because of the concern that a full liver might not fit in Edictor’s body, the Jefferson transplant team thought a split-liver transplant would work for Michael, another person on the waiting list for a donor liver.
On Christmas Eve, Dr. Maley received the call that a potential donor liver was available for Edictor, who would also receive a kidney from the same donor.
That started a 24-hour surgical marathon.
The surgeon traveled to the donor hospital and began the careful process of separating the two parts of the liver while it remained in the body, completing the split when the organs were removed.
Dr. Maley returned with the two parts of the liver and a kidney to Jefferson, where he and his colleague Carlo Ramirez, MD, FACS, performed the transplants on Edictor. Then the two surgeons performed a liver transplant on Michael.
“It was a great opportunity for Michael because of the fact that we couldn’t use the entire liver for Edictor,” says Dr. Maley.
For both Edictor and Michael – and for their entire transplant team – that Christmas was particularly special and a great reminder to all of us of the great Gift of Life that can occur when someone chooses to become a donor and shares that decision with their family.