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Living-Donor Transplants - The Gift of Life

New Best Hope

For many patients with liver failure, living-donor transplants may become their best hope for a healthy future. Anne Paschke, spokesperson for the United Network for Organ Sharing, says that in 2000 there were 1,867 people on the liver donation waiting list who died before a liver became available.

Maria Elena Chavez admits she was nervous about having the operation to donate part of her liver. But she was considered a suitable candidate and was determined to take the risk to save her sister's life.

In the procedure, surgeons take about 60% of the donor's liver and transplant it into the recipient to replace the failing organ. Each patient is in the operating room for as little as 3 hours if the procedures go well, although in some cases it takes much longer. After the transplants, the livers in both patients begin growing almost immediately. "It's really quite dramatic," says Shackleton. "In just two to three weeks, the volume of the liver is markedly greater and approaching what each individual needs."

"By mid-January, two months after the transplant, Juanita was feeling well enough to return to her job as a third-grade teacher. At the same time, the sisters are trying to educate others, particularly in the Latino community, about the importance of becoming organ donors. The sisters are nieces of Cesar Chavez, who co-founded the United Farm Workers of America along with their mother, Dolores Huerta.

According to Shackleton, other than needing to take immunosuppression drugs to prevent rejection of their new liver, living-donor organ recipients like Juanita can expect to lead a normal life. "We expect Juanita to go about her life in a very normal fashion with no encumbrances," he says.

For more information about organ donation, see the Web sites of the United Network for Organ Sharing ( ) and the Coalition on Donation (

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