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Saint Luke's doctors perform hospital's first split-liver transplant

Brock Griffin, 37, receives second chance at life
brock griffin.JPG
Posted at 4:03 PM, Jul 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-07 18:31:22-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City completed its first split-liver transplant in June, changing the lives of two people due to the organ donor’s generosity and the capabilities of two local surgeons, Lee Cummings and Jameson Forster.

“I knew something was wrong,” Brock Griffin, a 37-year-old cowboy from a small town, said. “I was yellow, and when it first happened, I thought I had the flu – just sick, weak. Found out it was a stone and my bile ducts – they took that out and put stents in. And like I said, I had a yellow tint to me.”

Griffin leads an active lifestyle riding horses, raising livestock and doing heavy roadwork. He said it has been hard on him to leave all of it behind.

“It was just a matter of time if I didn't get one," Griffin said, "and it’s been five years getting on the list and getting everything done."

He returned to Saint Luke’s for a follow-up appointment on Wednesday after receiving the transplant – in which one child and one adult typically receive the organ – three weeks ago.

Cummings said split-liver transplants are rare and tricky. They account for just 1 percent of all adult liver transplants – of which there are roughly 80 to 100 operations annually – and 15% of all pediatric transplants, which accounts for about 100 to 110 operations annually.

"I was glad the other one, when they segmented it, it went to a young kid and gave them another chance, too, so it was a good thing," Griffin said.

It is more difficult to find whole livers for children, according to Cummings, as less children die per year than adults.

“What makes it difficult is having the right patient, first of all, and also having the right organ," Cummings said. "In this situation, we had a pristine young donor who unfortunately passed away and his liver was amenable to being split.”

Just 10 days after being added to a transplant wait list that took five years to get on, Griffin received his call to come in. He woke up with a new liver the next day.

“Up until the time that you get the call, you’re all gung-ho and ready to go, just so you can get back to normal," Griffin said, "but when you get the call it's kinda… gut check.”

Cummings said this is why organ donors are so invaluable.

“Without donors, we can’t do what we do,” Cummings said. “With our patient in particular, that was two livers, two kidneys, a pancreas, a heart and a lung, so seven organs and potentially tissue donations. It's a big deal.”

Saint Luke’s hopes this new achievement will increase the organ donation pool and further close the gap on liver demand and supply.