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Spring 1998
To Save Two Lives
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So the team did their first split-liver, taking a donor organ and splicing it in two, then transplanting it into two recipients. The concept was sound, but only one in four transplants took. Discouraged, Busuttil abandoned the procedure.

His team had been operating on children with great results. However, many babies and young children were dying waiting for donor livers to become available. In response, in 1993 Busuttil started the Living-Related Donor Program, in which the parent of a critically ill baby gives a piece of his or her liver to the child. These transplants had a high rate of success, but the surgery put the donor parent at significant risk and was not a viable option for the growing number of single-parent families the team was seeing.

In 1996, Busuttil, encouraged by results reported by German surgeons, revisited the split-liver procedure. Instead of splitting the organ after it was removed from the donor’s body, the UCLA team divided the liver inside it. This refinement transformed the program. The team has performed 35 of the operations to date, in each case doubling the number of patients able to receive transplants.

The split-liver program has proven especially critical in saving the lives of babies who come into the hospital deathly ill. “Most of these children have a condition known as biliary atresia,” explains Busuttil. “The child is born without bile ducts, and cirrhosis of the liver develops. Liver transplantation is the only cure.”

Jadonne Gyswyt has carved out a philosophy of life. Give things up to God. At 38, the earthy Texas native and mother of three has had little choice. Her middle child, 8-year-old Kyle, developed autism two years ago. Andrew, a 2-year-old with big blue eyes and mop of shaggy blond hair, was born soon after with biliary atresia.

“We don’t understand what causes this problem,” says Dr. Sue McDiarmid, the pediatric hepatologist who’s cared for children in the UCLA liver transplant program since 1984. “It’s not genetic. I’ve listened to the stories a hundred times and there’s no common thread. Babies are born healthy and become sick.”

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