Marzena Stasieluk needed a new kidney. She had been diagnosed with kidney disease in 2015 and eventually needed dialysis, a grueling process where a machine did the work her kidneys could no longer do.
But for a kidney transplant to succeed, she first needed a liver. Stasieluk’s liver disease had been under control for more than a decade, but worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic. It wasn’t so bad that she would be given priority for a liver from a deceased donor, her family said, but bad enough that a kidney transplant probably wouldn’t work.
Marzena’s daughter, Jennifer Stasieluk, is a nurse who has cared for patients through their most difficult times, through Covid-19 and cancer. She was willing, even eager, to donate a kidney to her mother. They had done all the scans and all the tests, but it wasn’t going to work.
Although they have the same blood type, her mother is part of a subset of so-called “highly sensitized” patients. Marzena had a high number of antibodies against foreign tissue – a factor that increases the likelihood of an organ being rejected and makes finding a match much more difficult.
“She needed a new liver to do a kidney transplant. However, his liver by itself was not diseased enough,” recalls Jennifer, 29. ”
In January 2020, an appointment with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota introduced a new idea: Doctors suggested Marzena obtain part of a liver from a living donor.
Jennifer insisted that she get tested. Despite her mother’s protests, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. And this time the response was good.
“I kicked his door open in the morning when I got this call saying I was a match. I said ‘Mom, I’m compatible, pack your bags, surgery’s in six weeks .’ We couldn’t believe I was a match,” Jennifer said.
On June 25, 2021, Jennifer gave her mother a lobe of her liver. Jennifer spent five days recovering in the hospital and Marzena spent 11. For living donors and recipients, the liver has the unique ability to regenerate within weeks, and the recovery was successful for the mother. and the girl.
But Marzena, affectionately known as a “professional grandmother”, had to continue dialysis and was desperate for a normal life.
“It was awful. You’re sitting there three days a week for over three hours,” said Marzena, who lives in Illinois. “My kids and my grandkids are all over the world and that’s why I fought so long. I don’t want them, the children and my grandchildren, to lose me.
After the liver transplant, Jennifer was willing to donate a kidney to a stranger as part of a matching donation – a process in which kidneys from a living donor are swapped so that recipients like Marzena receive a matched organ.
Jennifer underwent another round of blood work and tests to prepare for the kidney donation. Then came a surprise: Due to the effect Jennifer’s liver had on her mother’s immune system, she was now able to donate a kidney to her mother.
“We never thought in a million years that I would be a straight match,” Jennifer said. “I was excited for it. I wasn’t nervous. I knew I was in good hands.
“I gave him the biggest lobe of my liver on June 25, 2021. And then a year later, a kidney.”
Dr. Timucin Taner, director of the division of transplant surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, performed the liver transplant for the Stasieluks.
He and his colleagues have studied the effect of liver transplants on the immune system, including research on how a liver transplant before a heart transplant — not the typical order — can reduce organ rejection.
Taner said the Stasieluks are the first case they are aware of where a liver’s effect on a patient’s immune response allowed for a subsequent kidney transplant from the same donor. They plan to write a case report on the proceedings.
“She donated two organs a year apart to the same person,” Taner said of Jennifer. “So she saved her mother’s life twice.”
Taner says organ donors, living or dead, are heroes. There simply aren’t enough organs for everyone who needs them.
Across the country, nearly 106,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. So far this year, nearly 40,000 transplants have been performed.
“On average, about 25,000 people in the United States are on the waiting list for liver transplants,” Taner said. “And of those, every year we can only transplant up to about 9,000, because that’s only the number of livers we have.
Jennifer described long, late shifts as a nurse helping patients and their families at the height of the pandemic. There were dark days when answers were few and hope was sometimes hard to find.
“Losing patients to Covid has been devastating. I felt so helpless,” Jennifer said.
But donating organs to his mother – twice – was empowering.
“Just knowing that there’s something I can do that’s not hopeless…just having this power that I can actually do something and help him and save his life was amazing. “, said Jennifer.
It will be the first Christmas in about seven years that Marzena has felt healthy. Jennifer said it was more special than any party before.
Marzena said her daughter’s gifts changed her life.
“Today I’m grateful. I don’t think I can ever say enough, thank you,” Marzena said, holding back tears. “What do you say to someone who has donated two organs, and not of one ? ”