Biliary Atresia

(Left to Right) Mark Doerr, John Chester and Jeffrey Doerr

Some friends would give you the shirts off their backs. Others would give you the lobes of their livers. That is just what John Chester did when his best friend’s brother needed a liver transplant last year.

Many people may not realize that livers can come from a live donor. It’s an exciting area and with the shortage of cadaver organs, it can help patients desperately waiting for new livers.

New Jersey resident, Jeffrey Doerr was born with biliary atresia, a condition where bile ducts become inflamed and blocked soon after birth. This causes bile to remain in the liver, where it starts to destroy liver cells rapidly and cause cirrhosis and scarring.

“I was pretty fortunate. I lived a normal life and didn’t get really sick until I was 27, which is unusual for my disease,” says Jeffrey. “I went out of state for college and even studied abroad for a semester. But it eventuality caught up with me – big time! I went from feeling great to needing an immediate transplant in a heartbeat.”

Friends and family rushed to see if they could donate part of their livers. There were high hopes that his younger brother Mark would be a match, but he wasn’t. Mark’s liver was not big enough.

Says John, “I saw Mark at our college graduation party and he was not himself. Understandably he was worried about his brother. I always knew that Jeffrey had a liver condition but because he was always so healthy, I had never thought of it as life-limiting.”

It was at the party that Mark told John about the severity of Jeffrey’s illness and the difficulty of finding an organ donor. John immediately offered his. For him, it was a reflex action. It was a long time since the days of being an Eagle Scout – the highest rank you can attain in the Boy Scouts. But the strength of character that John exemplified then did not fade with time. Recently John was awarded the Boy Scout’s Honor Medal With Crossed Palms, which is given to someone who has put himself in danger to save another’s life. Only 277 Honor Medals with Crossed Palms have been awarded since 1924.

It turned out that John and Jeffrey had the same blood type and John’s liver was big enough so that his entire right lobe could be transplanted into Jeffrey’s body. Livers regenerate (it is actually the only organ in the body that can) and John’s grew back within weeks of his surgery.

There are a number of tests involved when you are a live liver donor. Of course, there are CAT scans, MRIs and blood tests to ensure the physical health of the donor. But there are also psychological tests to ensure that the donor is emotionally healthy to have made the decision and did so of their own free will without coercion or expectation of a financial reward.

The summer was spent undergoing all of these tests. “Three days before the surgery was scheduled, I went toxic,” says Jeffrey. “There really wasn’t time to waste.”

The surgery was performed on September 10, 2013, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. John was released after a little over a week and Jeffrey recovered in the hospital for two weeks.

“You don’t expect a 23-year old, fresh out of college to do such a remarkable and selfless act,” says Allan Doerr, Jeffrey’s father and a member of the American Liver Foundation’s national board of directors. “John saw an opportunity to help a friend and he did not hesitate. It was such a normal and natural thing to do. Our family is eternally grateful.”

John and Jeffrey are connected in ways that few people are.

Seven months after surgery, Jeffrey feels great. “Physically, things you do not think will be an issue are, and things that should be an issue are not,” says Jeffrey. “But when you think about it, that applies to life in general and is a very small price to pay.”

Words to live by.

Last updated on July 19th, 2022 at 03:17 pm

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