Not long ago, David Kline, 59, of Winfield, was in a fight for his life after being diagnosed with end-stage liver disease. The liver is a vital organ as it helps remove toxins from the body, and when damaged by underlying disease, genetic disorders, obesity, or alcohol abuse, it stops functioning.
Dave was diagnosed with cirrhosis caused by Alpha-1 Antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic disorder which can lead to chronic liver disease, and the ammonia levels in his body rose to dangerous levels — making him very sick, combative, and confused. Dave and his wife, Wanda, made regular trips to the emergency department to manage the symptoms before meeting Puneet Basi, MD, FACP, FACA, AGAF, gastroenterologist/hepatologist at UPMC Williamsport.
Dr. Basi leads UPMC’s Williamsport-based Liver Transplant Evaluation Clinic. It’s through this clinic that Dr. Basi referred Dave to Swaytha Ganesh, MD, medical director, UPMC Living Donor Program, Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute in Pittsburgh. Dr. Ganesh and other transplant specialists travel regularly from Pittsburgh to Williamsport to see patients with chronic liver disease. The specialists evaluate patients with liver disease, assess their eligibility for living donor surgery, and care for them post-transplant.
“Before we started receiving care through UPMC, we were struggling,” remembers Wanda. “Dave didn’t think he would be able to travel for regular care, so being able to go to Williamsport gave us peace of mind.”
In January 2019, Dave found out his liver was only functioning at 20%. The need for a liver transplant was critical and he was put on the waiting list a month later.
On any given day, there are approximately 17,000 people in search of a healthy liver on the transplant waitlist. Sadly, 25% of the people on the list will die before receiving a transplant.
Unlike other organs, a healthy liver can regenerate, offering patients the option for living donation. During a living donation, a portion of the healthy liver is transplanted from a donor to the patient and the patient’s unhealthy liver is completely removed. It’s a serious surgery, however most patients and donors recover within eight to ten weeks.
Dave and Wanda’s children were some of the first to be tested to see if they were a match. Unfortunately, they were not a match for their father. Luckily, the family was able to tap into resources available through UPMC’s Living Donor Champion Program to help in their search for a match.
Although the doctors had prepared the Klines for a long wait on the transplant list, they got the phone call they had been waiting for in March — they found a match. Dave had surgery on May 2, 2019, and just 17 days later, he returned home with a new liver.
Today, Dave returns to Pittsburgh every three months for follow-up appointments, but all other tests and blood-work are done locally at UPMC Williamsport.
Dave and Wanda are active in advocating and helping raise awareness for organ donation, especially living donor organ donation.
“We know how hard it can be, and we want others on the wait list to know they aren’t in it alone,” said Wanda. “There are many ways to secure a donor and we can all help each other. We hope sharing our story will make others aware of living donation and encourage more donors.”