Henrico woman saved by a piece of her son’s liver
Throughout the pandemic, there has been a shortage of lifesaving organs. In response to this, a team at VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center performed a rare incompatible blood-type liver transplant in 2020. The recipient, Karen Luper, had been suffering from liver disease for over 20 years. She never thought that the organ she needed would come from her son since they were not a blood match. Yet, VCU Health made it happen.
Keyris Manzanares: In medical terms, Brenton Luper and his mother Karen Luper are incompatible, yet, through a rare procedure, Brenton was able to give his mom a piece of his liver as a live organ donor.
Karen Luper: We were not a match.
Brenton Luper: Yeah.
Karen Luper: Our blood types were not a match at all.
Manzanares: To save Karen's life, the team at VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center performed what's called an incompatible liver transplant for the first time.
Karen Luper: Every day I wake up, I'm so grateful. I'm grateful for the life that my son gave me, I'm grateful for my doctors.
Manzanares: Karen has lived with liver disease for over 20 years.
Karen Luper: You compensate, and you adjust your lifestyle to what you could do, and you managed it. I mean, I worked full-time, and I was a single mother with two kids.
Manzanares: According to Dr. David Bruno, one of Luper's doctors, the liver impacts almost every system in your body. You can't live without one.
Dr. David Bruno: Your liver makes bile, so in some ways, your liver makes bile to help you digest fat, but also to excrete some waste products. It makes everything in your body that helps you make a clot except for one factor.
Manzanares: Brenton says when he was younger, he saw his mother suffering for decades, living with a life-threatening liver disease. He says it made them closer.
Brenton Luper: You want to make sure you're there for each other and spend as much time together as you can, and I think it helps foster a little bit tighter of a bond sometimes, 'cause you don't know which trip to the hospital may be the last or something to that nature.
Manzanares: Karen says she knew she'd need a liver transplant, but never imagined the life-saving organ would come from her son.
Karen Luper: It was like my son didn't even blink. It was just, oh, absolutely.
Manzanares: Since the Luper's were not a blood match, Karen and Brenton underwent weeks of preparation.
Brenton Luper: I mean, I feel like each week, it was a different test or drawing more blood or whatever it may be, so that they could increase the likelihood that her body would accept my liver.
Manzanares: Brenton says he'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Brenton Luper: And this has really given us a lot more years with each other, and I don't think you can ask that much more from something.
Manzanares: Dr. Bruno says the Luper's case is remarkable from a scientific perspective.
Dr. Bruno: You could give non-identical compatible transplants. If your donor is O, then that can go into anyone; O is a universal donor, and there are subtypes of A that you could give to anyone, A2 for instance, but they didn't have any of that, actually.
Manzanares: Earlier this year, VCU Health received the largest donation for liver research in U.S. history: $104 million. The money will be used to stop, treat, and prevent liver disease. Dr. Bruno says the donation makes VCU an epicenter for liver research in the country and creates awareness.
Dr. Bruno: I think it shines a light on the disease, and how, really, right now, this is our only choice at the end of the day, that if your liver fails, that you need a liver transplant.
Manzanares: With the transplant, Karen's liver has regenerated, changing her life.
Karen Luper: I don't have to compensate for exhaustion, and I don't have to compensate. I'm not worried about something's going to happen at any minute and I have to go spend a week at the hospital. People really should consider being an organ donor. It is an opportunity for them to give life to someone else.
Manzanares: Karen says she'll never be able to thank Brenton enough.
Karen Luper: For a son to give his mother life, it's a feeling that you can't express.
Brenton Luper: We both also like to constantly give back, and I think that's something that is one of the forefronts as far as a character trait that we both have is what can we do, not for ourselves, but for others.
Manzanares: Reporting for VPM News Focal Point, I'm Keyris Manzanares.