Utah Doctor Donates Part Of Her Liver To Save A Stranger’s Life
Dec 25, 2020, 11:42 PM | Updated: Dec 5, 2022, 10:58 pm
MURRAY, Utah — In this season of giving, the gift of life is critical. A Utah doctor and mother of two recently donated part of her liver so that a sick baby could live. It’s a gift she would give again, even though she did not know the child she saved.
Dr. Cara Heuser had already started the process to become a donor before the pandemic emerged in Utah, so she wanted to complete the gift.
“I feel very privileged to have been able to do this,” she said.
Heuser cares for mothers in high-risk pregnancies as a doctor of maternal-fetal medicine with Intermountain Healthcare. Until a friend talked to her about organ donation, she always thought of it in terms of helping a loved one or donating after one’s death.
“But, I had not heard that you could just sign up and be what’s called a non-directed donor,” she said.
Also known as an altruistic donor — giving the organ to the person who needs it the most.
“That seemed like a pretty amazing thing to me,” said Heuser.
She decided to donate part of her liver through Primary Children’s Hospital.
Unlike other organs, the liver regenerates. Both livers should grow back to about 90% of their normal size in a few months.
“I thought that it would be nice to donate to a child,” the doctor said.
Heuser has a husband and two kids of her own.
“That was definitely something that I had to think about,” she said.
Fortunately, her family supported her, and she wanted to set an example for her children.
“As a mom, if I were not in a position to be able to save my own child, I would want someone to do this for me,” she said.
Her kids, she believed, were old enough to understand.
“To show them that it’s important to give to our community and help our fellow humans, and also to teach them that doing the right thing isn’t always the easy thing.”
In August, a pediatric patient needed her liver.
“I knew her age and I knew her diagnosis,” she said.
The patient was an 8-month-old from out of state with chronic liver disease. She needed a transplant right away.
“It’s incredible. That’s why I always refer to our donors as heroes,” said Dr. Manuel Rodriguez, the transplant surgeon with Intermountain Healthcare who performed the operation.
It was a first of its kind robotic live liver transplant in the western U.S. for a pediatric patient.
The innovative procedure improves recovery time for living donors.
“You want to make this process as easy as possible. You want to have them recover fast,” said Rodriguez.
Normally, liver transplant surgery requires a large incision. The robotic procedure gives surgeons a 3D view while they operate robotic arms from a computer across the room.
“As a surgeon, a fantastic experience. I think that the optics, the views, the safety of using a robot, it’s amazing.”
Heuser went home after several days and was back at work after a month.
Several weeks ago, she exchanged letters with the baby’s parents through a social worker because of privacy protocols surrounding organ transplants.
“So, I do know a little bit about her,” Heuser said. “It’s very heartwarming.”
The child has celebrated her first birthday and taken her first steps.
“She’s really thriving. She is a completely different kid than the baby I met when we had to list her urgently,” said Rodriguez.
“It didn’t matter to me who got the liver specifically because when the person at the top of the list gets an organ, everyone else is now eligible for the next organ. Everyone else moves up,” said Dr. Heuser.
“Live donor liver transplantation is an example of all the amazing things humans can do for each other,” said Rodriguez.
Seventeen people die every day in America waiting for an organ on the transplant list and another person is added to the waiting list every nine minutes.
Heuser said she hopes her donation will encourage all of us to consider how we might give.