Twenty years ago this November, the first living-donor liver transplant was performed at the University of Chicago Hospital, transferring a portion of the organ from Teresa Smith to her 9-month-old daughter, Alyssa. In October, the team of surgeons (led by Dr. Christopher Broelsch), pediatricians and ethicists who collaborated on that historic procedure will reunite for a conference, alongside Teresa and Alyssa Smith – now 20 years old and healthy.
Surgeons continue to perform living-donor liver transplants today, and though the procedure has become practically routine for some transplant surgeons, it remains an amazing feat of medicine that seems almost improbable: a piece of one person’s organ granting new life to another. This week, one such gift played out at the University of Chicago Medical Center, as 11-month-old Raquel Allen, diagnosed with biliary atresia (a congenital disease where the liver does not properly secrete bile), received a portion of a donor’s liver. Remarkably, donor Catherine Ortiz is not related to Raquel, but is a co-worker with Raquel’s mother at a Chicago pharmacy.
Raquel’s parents, Catherine and the surgeons were gracious enough to allow us to observe the procedure as it unfolded over 8 hours last week, and for the next few days we’ll be posting a video documentary of the event in three installments. Here’s the first, which contains interviews with Raquel’s parents, Melvin Allen and Coral Grinage, and Catherine Ortiz. Tomorrow, we’ll post footage from the surgeries, and later this week we’ll check in with Raquel and her family as she recovers in Comer Children’s Hospital.