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DETROIT – A recent Grand Rapids-area college graduate was able to give back to his father in a way few can: the gift of life by donating part of his liver in a rare Living Liver Transplant.
Brian Barnes, 23, passed two-thirds of his liver on to his father, John Barnes, 57, in a transplant that took a total of about 9½ hours in adjacent operating rooms. The advanced procedure took place at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit on Monday, July 11, 2016.
Many people don’t realize a liver can regenerate, says John’s transplant surgeon, Henry Ford Transplant Institute director Marwan Abouljoud, M.D. He removed two-thirds of Brian’s liver, which then was transplanted into John by Henry Ford transplant surgeon Atsushi Yoshida, M.D.
Both livers will regrow to normal size within three months. Brian will return to life as normal; John will continue to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life. Their health will continued to be monitored by Henry Ford hepatologist Reena Salgia, M.D.
“Living liver donation offers the best scenario for so many people,” says Dr. Abouljoud. “There are not enough livers available for those who need them. So it truly is a life-saving procedure on many levels.”
Benefits of living liver donation include getting patients transplanted faster and before they are too sick to undergo the operation; the ability to schedule the surgery when it is convenient for the donor, recipient and doctors; and living donor livers lasting longer than those received from deceased donors.
Since the first Living Liver Transplant in Michigan, there were 112 Living Liver Transplants in the state prior to the Barnes’ transplant. Henry Ford Hospital conducted 93 of those procedures – the most experienced team in the state.
John points out that Brian saved two lives: his and the person who will now “move up the list” to receive a liver from a deceased donor that would have gone to John.
“He is saving not just my life, but someone else’s,” says John.
Some facts about living liver donation, according to the American Transplant Foundation, include:
- There were 139,999 liver transplants in the United States from 1988 through 2015;
- There are just under 15,000 patients currently waiting for a liver transplant;
- Due to the organ shortage, over 6,000 precious lives are lost just in America each year, more than 1,400 are those waiting for a liver transplant.
- In 2015, 359 liver transplants were made possible by living donors.
Brian secretly got tested to see if he was a match for his father, just before he graduated from Hope College with a degree in economics and public policy in December 2015. Both men now live in Comstock Park, a suburb north of Grand Rapids in western Michigan.
“They’re starting their lives, Brian particularly, so I told them not to be tested,” explains John about the reason why he declined offers by his three sons and daughter to see if they were a match. “Not for the first time, he didn’t obey me.”
Brian sees it differently. He underwent thorough physical and mental evaluation during his senior internship in Washington, D.C., then put a hold on his first post-college job search.
“None of it ever was as important as helping you,” he said.
John Barnes, a journalist with the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 33 years, had recently suffered a severe infection which doctors suspected was mononucleosis, when he couldn’t get out of bed the weekend of July 4, 2013. Doctors said he had irreversible liver damage, exacerbated by a fondness for a couple of beers here and there after work. But they couldn’t specifically pinpoint a cause.
“(The doctor) said, ‘It doesn’t matter how many second opinions you get, the outcome is the same: a transplant,’” explains John.
Ironically, another family member was a donor in the early years of living liver transplant, when only about 200 had been done.
Nancy Rettinhouse, 61, of Land ‘O Lakes, Florida – John’s sister-in-law and Brian’s aunt – donated part of her liver to her 8-month-old granddaughter, who was born with a severe liver defect.
“A lot of people were scared,” Nancy says, explaining she hasn’t had any long-term effects. “You wake up and think, ‘What have I done?’ But looking back, it was fairly simple for me.”
John’s wife and Brian’s mother, Julie Barnes, said she’s relieved both are on the road to recovery. By the time the transplant took place, John could barely get out of the house, with his mind fogged by toxins built up in his body.
“Life can start happening again,” she said.
Learn more information about Living-Donor Liver Transplant or call (313) 916-1826. To sign up to become and organ donor, visit Gift of Life Michigan.
(248) 881-0809 cell/text