CHENNAI: One cadaver liver. Two dying men. It’s a paradox that most liver transplant surgeons will blankly refuse to deal with - handing the liver to one patient and sealing the other’s fate. But not Mohamed Rela. Global Health City’s tireless
liver transplant surgeon, split the liver of a 40-year-old brain dead patient and gave one lobe each to two men who are as far apart as chalk and cheese - and invigoratingly, both of them live to tell the tale.
How different are they? Salim is 58, a staunch Muslim from Kerala, who has had a failing liver and been on the transplant list for a year. On the other hand, Saravanan (34), a native of Tamil Nadu, went into liver failure two months ago and would not have lived if he hadn’t been operated on two weeks ago. Livers are amongst the most regenerative organs in the body and both men have excellent chances of recovering.
The reason that their survival is seen as a downright miracle is because very few adults have received a liver lobe each and actually made it out of the Operating Room (OR). “Normally, when we do split liver transplants, the thumb rule is that the right lobe goes to the adult and the left to a child. The results of giving the left lobe to an adult are very poor because it is the smaller portion and may not be enough to sustain the person,” said Rela, who has done a whopping 19 transplants in the last two weeks. A professor at Kings College, London, he added that of the 6,000-odd transplants that they had done there, only two-three had been split livers for adults.
But Saravanan and his young wife were desperate. For him to live, somehow, was all they wanted, and that played on the surgeon’s mind. “He desperately needed it and there was no chance that he would have been alive if he had waited for an organ to be allotted,” admitted Rela, who took a gamble. “So we went for it. One team harvested the organ from a 40-year-old man who died in a road accident and then we spent a few hours carefully splitting the liver so that both patients got enough to live with,” he added.
After two gruelling surgeries where they nearly lost the patients, both men were given their liver lobes and wheeled back to their rooms. And their wives were thrilled to tears when they saw their doctors write ‘Condition: Stable’ on their record sheets. As they sit side-by-side with their spouses and smile happily for the pictures, they are blissfully unaware that if it hadn’t been for the resilience of the liver transplant team, one of them would not have had this happy ending.