Living liver donation

Father donates liver to save infant daughter's life

A family of four sitting near a tree on a lakeshore on a beautiful night
Shaonan and Yimeng Chen with their daughters, Meiyee and Meiqi

During the summer of 2015, Yimeng and Shaonan Chen believed they would need to say goodbye to their baby daughter Meiyee.

After taking her to American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison at the beginning of the summer, they learned she had biliary atresia, which meant the bile ducts from her liver were not formed. Bile could not drain from her liver, which caused it to become hard and scarred.

She was hospitalized for more than a month as doctors tried medication after medication, but her condition did not improve. Without a liver transplant, Meiyee would die — so she was placed on the wait list.

In July, Meiyee was about to receive a liver from an infant who had died, but her surgeon at the time, Tony D’Alessandro, MD, was concerned the artery to the new liver would clot, due to its very small size, if she received a liver from this deceased donor. “We thought we were going to lose her,” Yimeng said, “because we didn’t know if a deceased donor liver transplant would be available for her in time. We had made a decision to give up.”

Then, Dr. D’Alessandro presented another option: Meiyee might be better able to tolerate a liver from a living donor. Shaonan was not an option, because she had just given birth to Meiyee. But Yimeng underwent testing and found that he was a perfect match for his daughter. “I didn’t have time to be nervous about undergoing the surgery," Yimeng said. "It felt like everything happened naturally. The liver transplant team did a very good job explaining everything in detail — the benefits, the risks, the drawbacks."

Both father and daughter underwent their surgeries on Aug. 6, 2015. Yimeng’s liver worked right away for Meiyee, and after two weeks, she returned home to recover alongside her father.

Now, she is three years old and a joy to both of her parents and her older sister Meiqi, 5. She is a happy, quiet toddler who is remarkably patient and loves to sit and draw. Rather than planning her funeral, Yimeng and Shaonan now have high hopes for their daughter’s future.

“If you didn’t know she had a liver transplant, you would never be able to tell by looking at her,” Yimeng said