Billy-Joe Sewell and Luke Gumble with the Royal Free Hospital’s transplant team
Published: 14 June, 2012
by TOM FOOT
A MAN’S life was saved after doctors at the Royal Free Hospital carried out the country’s first transplant between a living adult donor and a man with acute liver failure.
Billy-Joe Sewell, 24, was admitted to the Hampstead NHS Trust on January 23 where he was diagnosed with progressive subacute liver failure and given just days to live.
A national call for a liver from a deceased donor failed and it was only when his best mate, Luke Gumble, came forward that experts saw a possible solution.
Mr Gumble was found to be a perfect liver match for Mr Sewell and, after an assessment approved by a doctor from the Human Tissue Authority, the transplant operation went ahead on February 13.
Both patients have since made a full recovery.
Experts believe this kind of operation has never been performed in this country and the Royal Free is one of just a handful of specialist centres where live liver transplants can happen.
Professor Max Malago, hepato-pancreato-biliary and transplant surgeon at the Royal Free, oversaw the removal of more than half of Luke’s liver and transplanted it into Billy-Joe’s body.
He said: “The liver failure was progressive and it became clear that Billy-Joe would require urgent liver transplantation.
“The patient was listed for an emergency cadaveric organ transplant, but due to national shortage of organs, there was no liver available for the operation.
“In the meantime, the patient’s condition was deteriorating to a state of diminished consciousness and metabolic derangement [hypoglycaemia].
“The liver needs to be of an identical or compatible blood group, and the size of the liver needs to be an anatomic match to give the best possible chance of a safe and successful operation both for donors and recipients.
“The liver regenerates in both the donor and the recipient, to almost the original size. With one liver, you can make two.”
The operation to remove the liver took around seven hours, while the operation to place the liver in the recipient took around nine hours.
Billy-Joe said: “Luke and I have been best friends for the past 12 years, through football and going to the same secondary school. We see each other almost every day.
“Of all my friends and family, I still can’t believe that my best friend was a match.”
And Luke added: “As soon as I heard that Billy-Joe needed a liver transplant, I wanted to put myself forward.”
Professor James Neuberger, associate medical director at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “We believe that this is the first adult-to-adult transplant involving a living donor for acute liver failure in the UK, and we are pleased to hear that the patient and donor in this case are doing well.
“Patients waiting for a transplant rely heavily on people donating their organs after death.
“Everyone needs to consider joining the Organ Donor Register and make their wishes known to loved ones.”