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Because of the way organs are allocated, patients who need liver transplants usually must wait until they are extremely ill before they are high enough on the transplant list to receive an organ from a deceased donor.
Dean Huber of Reedsburg, Wisconsin, was diagnosed with non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver in 2014, but for several years, his health—while not good—was not poor enough to receive priority. Dean regularly saw his UW Health hepatologist Adnan Said and came to University Hospital as often as twice each month to have fluid drained from his abdomen.
In August 2018, Dean finally hit the point of no return. He developed an infection in his abdomen, and his transplant coordinator told his wife, Tammy, to bring him to the Reedsburg emergency room right away. Over the next eight hours, his health rapidly deteriorated. Doctors in Reedsburg determined he needed to be admitted to University Hospital right away and transported him there via ambulance. “He was so sick,” says Tammy. “I was concerned he was not going to make it. I was just relieved that other people were caring for him, and that he was in the right place to receive treatment.”
By that point, he was sick enough to rise to the top of the transplant list—but he couldn’t be transplanted until his infection was successfully treated. Fortunately, his doctors were able to get his infection under control and reestablish him on the transplant list within a couple of days, and, amazingly, a liver became available right away. The next day, his family came to the hospital for the surgery, but a transplant surgeon told him the liver was not good enough. “My wife told me and my children, ‘Don’t worry. I will get your father a liver for your anniversary,’” says Dean.
Their anniversary was two days later—and sure enough, Dean received a call that day with another liver. He received his gift of life on Aug. 29, 2018—the day after his anniversary. The transplant was performed by Dr. Josh Mezrich and the UW Health team. Seven days later, he developed complications, and he required a procedure to fix his bile duct. After the procedure and a second surgery, his health dramatically improved, and three months after the transplant, he returned to his job as a construction field superintendent.
“I’m doing extremely well,” he says, “I feel like a new person and have energy I haven’t felt for years. I am extremely proud to say I had my liver transplant performed at University Hospital.”