Liver transplant

Cliffe Connor is given a new life

Cliffe Connor wearing a cap and playing a drumset.

Cliffe Connor went into the liver transplant process assuming he would never be lucky enough to receive the gift of life.

The Madison, Wisconsin, man was 70 years old and had heard that transplants were not in his future because of his age. Even when he got on the wait list for a new liver, his caregivers warned him there were thousands of people on the list and he could be waiting for a while.

So, he was shocked and delighted when, four weeks after he went on the list, he received a call saying he had an hour to get to University Hospital in Madison to undergo his life-saving surgery. “I’ve never been afraid to die, and I had just assumed that was how this was going to end,” he said. “Instead, I got this brand-new liver.”

Cliffe was first diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease several years ago. That led to cirrhosis, a scarring of the liver that makes it difficult for the organ to function. Throughout his liver problems, Cliffe’s doctors told him they would have to just manage his issues with medications, which was fine with him. But then he saw Paulina Phillips, MD, hepatologist at the UW Health Liver Transplant Program, who took just 15 minutes to determine a liver transplant would be his best chance at life.

“She was positive I needed to at least try, despite my age,” said Cliffe. “I went through many tests and several meetings to determine whether I was a good candidate, and I was told that a team of physicians would meet to decide if I would be on the list. When the phone rang and the person on the other end told me I was on the list, it was a nice Christmas gift, that I was at least considered for a transplant.”

Cliffe received his new liver just a few weeks later, and he was among the happiest patients on the transplant unit at the hospital because he never thought he’d be there. “I fell in love with every one of those nurses and nurses’ aides,” he said. “No matter what happened, they were there for me.”

Last fall, Cliffe met the family of his donor, Kathy. Cliffe pauses each day to express his gratitude for Kathy’s gift of life. “Kathy and I talk every morning,” he said. “I thank her for allowing me to meet my new grandchild.

Now, Cliffe is mostly back to his normal life. He played his first post-COVID-19 gig with his rock band (he’s a drummer) and he enjoys spending time with his wife Mary, three children and two grandchildren, who all live in the area. “I wouldn’t trade my new liver for anything,” he said.