UC Health performs first cold pump liver transplant

Updated: Jun. 3, 2019 at 10:22 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI, Ohio (FOX19) - A Maineville man is one of the first patients at UC Medical Center, and in the world, to get a new liver that was kept alive by a portable, hypothermic pump.

Russell Stevens said he feels amazing and it’s like he’s 25 again.

The procedure was so successful, it cut his hospital stay in half.

“Hi! My name’s Russ. I had a liver transplant,” a smiling Stevens told FOX19 NOW in a video he sent. ”Now I’m feeling great!”

We first met Stevens just three days after getting his liver transplant - right before the Easter holiday weekend.

“I feel like myself again,” he said. “And I haven’t felt like myself for a long time.”

His wife Bambi said he was homebound for two years once his liver started failing.

"And I started turning yellow, so I went to the doctor and they tested me and said, ‘yeah, you’ve got problems,’” Stevens said.

Russell was dying and he needed a new liver.

UC Medical Center is among the busiest centers in the U.S., with a staggering 115 liver transplants performed last year.

"The demand is huge and actually we still have many patients dying, waiting for livers,” said Dr. Shimul Shah, who is the surgeon who put-in Stevens’ new liver, and is the lead investigator for this new clinical trial at UC Health.

UC is the first of eight hospitals in the US, to use what’s called a portable, cold perfusion pump.

"We connect the liver to a couple tubes that are going to infuse the pump with special solution, ‘good juices’ that are going to flow in the liver continuously, in a pumping fashion, continuously until we’re ready to use it,” said Dr. Shah. ”So I can take it to the donor hospital, put the liver on the pump, and drive it or fly it back to Cincinnati, so it’s pumping the whole time while it’s coming back. The ideal is to be 4-degrees Celsius, which is the same as your refrigerator.”

They have a short window to work in, before the liver suffers.

"A liver can last roughly 12 hours,” he said.

The hope is the pump will keep a liver from degrading, so they’re delivering a healthier organ.

“Taking it out, putting into a box, traveling with it, taking it out, putting it into a body. So many things must be happening inside the liver that we don’t understand,” said Dr. Shah.

So far, Stevens has zero complications post-surgery.

”This was a miracle and I’m so happy,” said Stevens. “I know he did a wonderful job, they said it was a really long surgery, I’m sure he was worn out when he got done."

Most patients average ten days in the hospital, but Russell went home the morning of his fourth day. And now, he said there’s no limit to what he can do.

“I can’t wait to get back to my life,” said Stevens. “And it’s been really a wonderful thing that happened to me.”

Dr. Shah said they’re doing this same kind of “cooling” with kidneys and lungs. This is just the beginning, with livers in their clinical trial.

Stevens hopes to thank the family, whose son died and donated his liver to him. He said he will be eternally grateful.

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