Special Report: A Piece of Me, Live Donor Transplants Part 1

Major surgery is intimidating.

But what if it meant you could save another person’s life?

That was the motivation for a northern Michigan woman who donated one of her healthy organs to a complete stranger not once, but twice.

“One of my missions right now is I always want to leave people better than I found them,” said two-time living organ donor Teresa Kieffer.

Right now, tens of thousands of people are waiting for a life-changing phone call saying they’ve received an organ donation.Teresadeborah Ldlt 17

An average of 17 people die every day waiting for that call.

Kidneys and livers are the two most needed organs, and while the majority come from deceased donors, there is another way to help by becoming a living donor.

Clinical Director of the Starzl Transplant Institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Dr. Abhi Humar explained, “So what is a living donor transplant, it’s really still a transplant, but you’re replacing a diseased organ with a healthy organ and it’s now coming from a healthy individual.”

In 2014, we introduced you to Teresa after she donated her kidney to a complete stranger.

After six years and many conversations about her kidney donation, she wondered if she could do more, saying “You know what else can I do, because you feel like well you want to do something. I thought well wait a minute, I have a portion of my liver. Well no one would touch me because I had already donated a kidney.”

After some research she came across the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center where Dr. Humar specializes in liver transplants.

He explained, “The unique thing about the liver is it’s one of the few organs that we have that will actually regenerate. So within about 8 to 1o weeks of donated even as much as 60% of your liver, that liver will grow back to full size both in the person that gives the liver as well as the person that receives the liver.”

UPMC conducted an evaluation process to make sure Teresa was healthy in both mind and body.

Once approved, she was set to donate a portion of her liver to another stranger on September 21, 2020.

“It was a really early morning. We had to be at the hospital at like 5 a.m., but then they take you back, they prep you and 7 hours later, I wake up with half a liver,” said Teresa.

But why do this?

Why take your perfectly healthy body and do something that essentially reverses that?

Teresa explained, “You have the three big ones. The fear, the uncertainty, and the pain. Those three things in life you try to avoid, so you’re going into something that you’re not avoiding those things.”

A concern Teresa had to address with her friends, family, and 11-year-old daughter.

“Occasionally she would get scared and say you know, mom what if you die? What if something happens? It was kind of just showing her like, we can do hard things, you know even when it’s scary. I hope that’s what she takes from this, not that I was being reckless or anything, but more of hey we can do things for other people that is hard and scary but we’ll get through it,” said Teresa.

In the hands of Dr. Humar and UPMC, where they lead the country in performing live, double donor transplants, Teresa felt safe and confident.

Three months after surgery, Teresa returned to Pittsburgh for her post op appointment and to meet the woman who received her life changing donation.

“Oh it was wonderful, just wonderful. It was so nice to actually meet her in person. Oh my God, it was just overwhelming,” explained liver recipient Deb Berti.

Deb suffered from non-alcoholic cirrhosis, but now has another chance at life thanks to Teresa.

“Sometimes it’s hard for me because the recipients re always grateful. I don’t like being called a hero, because I feel like I’m a pretty average person. I feel like the real heroes of the world are people like her that don’t choose that life,” said Teresa.

So instead of a hero, we’ll call Teresa an angel.

Dr. Humar said, “Teresa was exactly that type of donor. She came in and said I want to donate part of my liver. In fact, these non-directed donors are the more remarkable and she’s even more remarkable beyond that because she actually donated a kidney before. So she’s like a triple, special type of individual.”

“It’s changed my life. It’s probably changed my life more than it has for them,” Teresa Explained

For more information about UPMC’s transplant program click here.

For Part 2, click here.