Woman gets second chance at life after Tampa General performs first liver transplant from live donor

Tampa General Hospital is breaking barriers on the west coast of Florida after successfully completed its first liver transplant with a living donor.

The feat comes at a time when organ donors are desperately needed around the country. Doctors at TGH said 100,000 people are waiting on the organ transplant list, and around 10,000 people are waiting for a liver transplant.

Doctors say around 4,500 people in Florida are waiting for a transplant and more than 400 are waiting for a liver transplant.

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"The west coast of Florida is growing astronomically," said Dr. Kiran Dhanireddy, the vice president and chief of TGH’s Transplant Institute. "And so if we don't pursue all these avenues to providing more organs for transplant, then people in our community who could live long and healthy lives won't survive."

Patty Sanz, who battled liver disease for two years, was able to get the transplant. She continued to be a patient that was in and out of the hospital, and eventually, her health started to go downhill over time. 

Patty said there was no telling how long she would be waiting on the transplant list, since she wasn’t in the ICU and in need of constant dialysis yet.

She said she didn’t want to burden her family by asking for something as big as the gift of life, but her son, Derek Sanz, quickly stepped up to the plate.

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"I kind of looked into it, talked to my mom about it, talked to different doctors and kind of my own head thought, ‘Hey, I think this might be the best choice for her,’" he said.

Derek Sanz says he found out he was a match and immediately made the decision to donate part of his liver to his mother.

Derek and Patty Sanz at a news briefing on TGH's first liver transplant with a live donor. 

"There's no better repayment for all the things she's done for me in my life," Derek said. "So I’m more happy to do it."

"I was really scared," Patty said. "And I was like, 'I don't think I want you to do it' because, you know, it's hard to watch your son go in. And he said, ‘Mom, I'm in 100%, and you can't stop me.' I know how grateful I am. How wonderful of a son do I have."

The mother and son had surgery a couple days before Mother’s Day and have been recovering ever since.

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"I will protect this liver, and I'm going to live my life to the fullest, which I haven't been able to do," said Patty.

Dr. Dhanireddy said organs from deceased donors typically go to the sickest patients.

"And so people like Patty, who are at home but bouncing in and out of the hospital with significant disease symptoms and suffering associated with that don't have access to transplants," Dr. Dhanireddy said.

Doctors said a living donor gives a patient the best long term outcome, but added that it’s hard to put a true value on life.

"I wouldn't have had a good quality of life," Patty said. And now, thanks to Derek, I am going to live my life to the fullest, watch my grandkids, you know? I mean, it's going to be fantastic."

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Unlike some other organ transplants, doctors said living donors of a liver transplant will see their liver grow back. 

"Although we took about two thirds of Derek's liver over the course of six to eight weeks, it grows back to nearly its previous size," Dr. Dhanireddy said. "And then the portion of liver that we took and put in Patty also grows to the size that she needs it to be."

Doctors said the benefits of a living donor are twofold, because it not only gives a patient a better outcome, but it also helps open up a spot on the transplant list for someone else.

Doctor Ashish Singhal, the director of Living Donor and Liver Transplant, said anyone can become a donor and find out if they’re a match for someone in need of a transplant.

TGH hopes to have upwards in 20 living donors a year.