Nearly 14,000 people are on the liver transplant list, according to the American Liver Foundation. Experts say about 10% of them will die or become too sick for a transplant before it's their turn. So the story of a Salt Lake City mother and son is one of a surgery with a unique twist.
Gwen Finlayson's autoimmune hepatitis led to cirrhosis years ago.
"A lot of fatigue and that really is the biggest thing, not being able to have the energy to do the things you want to do," Finlayson said.
She was on the liver transplant list. Then, her son, Brandon, offered to donate part of his.
"She needed this, and for the couple months of discomfort, that was well worth it," Brandon Finlayson said.
"The reason why a live donation is important to do before the patients get too sick is because you're not doing a full liver, you're only doing 40% to 60%," said Manuel Rodriguez-Davalos, MD, Director, Living Liver Donor Transplant Program at Intermountain Healthcare Transplant Services.
Gwen is petite, so Rodriguez-Davalos took Brandon's smaller left lobe, which is usually done for adolescents. It's the first time it was done between adults in Utah. The family and surgeons knew exactly how both livers looked before transplant. The team used 3D imaging to print models.
"The fact that we're able to kind of go over, step by step. It's just so much easier than just seeing a CAT scan on the screen," Rodriguez-Davalos said.
"Beforehand, we could see her liver, we could see my liver, and we could see exactly how they were going to cut it open," Brandon said.
Brandon was home in five days; Gwen in nine. Both their livers grew back to functioning size. Now, she is looking ahead and thankful every day.
"When I have milestones, when things are great, when things are going well, I try to reach out and tell him. Because I want him to know how grateful I am," Gwen said.
Rodriguez-Davalos said he planned to make 3D models of Brandon's and Gwen's livers in a year, to see how they've grown. Intermountain Transplant Services recently received a grant to create a 3D-printed liver library. Rodriguez-Davalos said models of donor and recipient livers would help educate patients and surgeons in training.
Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Jason Ball, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.