Brothers for Life: Organ Donation Safes Two Young Lives

At first glance, the two boys have little in common. Frank, a 2-year-old from Chicago, is learning how to walk and say his first words. Christian, 17, is in his senior year at Highland Park High School.
But on December 18, 2009, thanks to an individual they will never know, their lives became entwined forever at Children’s, where both were being treated for devastating forms of liver disease.
“We received a call on Thursday morning that a liver was available for Frank,” said Brian Stahulak, director of the hospital’s Siragusa Transplantation Center. “We knew early on that he did not need the entire liver so we contacted United Network for Organ Sharing to see if there was another recipient that matched Frank’s blood type who had priority on the list."
As it turns out, Christian was that person.
“It worked out beautifully because we had a healthy liver that could be split, and we had two children who were in dire need of transplants," says Riccardo Superina, MD, director of Transplant Surgery. "The biggest hurdle was to assemble two complete transplant teams for simultaneous operations without putting additional stress on our OR capacity.”
Frank and Christian's transplants took place across a hallway from each other, and required a total of 16 specialists in pediatric surgery and anesthesiology. The delicate process of splitting the liver and transplanting the sections took approximately eight hours.
“Our boys never knew each other before that day. But now they are brothers for life,” says Frank’s mother, Gia.
Our liver transplant program
Children’s is one of the leading pediatric transplant centers in the country and routinely splits livers with adult transplant centers. However, this is the first time the hospital has been able to use the split liver for two of its patients since the program began in 1997.
Nationally, patients receiving liver transplants have an 87 percent survival rate at one year after transplant. At Children’s, more than 90 percent of patients survive beyond the first year after transplant.
The introduction of split-liver transplants is an innovative surgical technique that allows two people to receive the gift of life from one organ donor.  Split transplants have dramatically reduced the wait time for those waiting for liver transplants by increasing the available number of potential organs.
Organs are a scarce resource with more than 105,000 people in the United States waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. In Illinois alone, more than 4,700 are waiting for transplant. Visit Donate Life Illinois for information on becoming an organ donor.
Story originally published in December 2009