findings home/archives       contact us       other AHC publications   

September 2003 Issue

RSS feed

Transplant Extends Life for Young Mother

Published September 2003

Nine months ago, a young woman with carcinoid tumors of the liver, was given new hope when Joseph Buell, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the UC Medical Center transplanted her new liver at The University Hospital. Tehani Wesley Teepe, a 27-year-old mother and wife received a liver transplant last December to save her from a rare form of cancer that had invaded her liver.

While preparing for Christmas with her two children, ages 22 months and 8 years old, she learned that her best Christmas gift was a new liver from someone she had never met.

Teepe had suffered from stomach pain for over a year, and assumed she had an ulcer until an ultrasound showed carcinoid tumor nodules in her liver. It was by a stroke of luck that Teepe received the liver so soon

One reason UC does so many liver transplants is that they treat liver cancers that others don't want to touch. Patients come from as far away as Texas, Wisconsin, New York, and Washington D.C. UC's transplant surgeons routinely receive second referrals from the Cleveland Clinic, and other medical centers in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky.

"University Hospital is the only transplant center in the Tristate area that will transplant livers to patients with certain tumors," said Steven Rudich, MD, director of transplantation at the UC Medical Center and associate professor, UC Department of Surgery.

With additional CT scans and other tests, physicians discovered that Teepe's liver was covered with 10 to 20 tumors. Initially, one doctor predicted that there was a 99 percent chance that the cancer would spread, which made Teepe ineligible for a liver transplant. Then she was referred to Joseph Buell, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the UC College of Medicine. After nearly two months of tests, the cancer didn't spread, and Teepe's name was placed on a donor list. On the morning of Christmas Eve, the transplant team found a match, and Teepe had the transplant that evening at The University Hospital.

This young mother credits the wonderful care she received at The University Hospital for her quick recovery. "I was walking to the bathroom during the second day after the transplant and was discharged after seven days." She said that she still goes for lab tests and check-ups twice each month and doctors have already reduced her medications.

Teepe's own mother had died of melanoma skin cancer when Teepe was only five years old and she was then adopted by the couple who were her baby sitters. She did not wish for her own children to be motherless at such a young age.

"I had a carcinoid tumor removed from one lung when I was 16 and thought that I was cured," she said. "Evidently, the tumor cells had spread to the liver. Since the good parts of the liver kept functioning, abdominal pain was the only symptom," Teepe said.

Teepe feared that her liver was being overtaken by the tumors and that it might just stop functioning one day. She encourages families to talk about being an organ donor because the need is so great and without donors there would be no transplants.

She also emphasizes the importance of listening to your body. If you have pain, be persistent, she advises. Never quit pursuing the problem and visiting doctors until they find out what the problem is. Even though predictions may be dire, never give up. "Life doesn't stop for you and you shouldnŐt stop believing in life," she said.

Dr. Buell (37) trained at The University of Chicago where he did 130 pediatric and adult liver transplants. Before that Dr. Buell was at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. His entire practice is based on the management of cancer and use of transplants or liver perfusion, or laparoscopic and open liver resection.

"The old adage, your liver is life is true," says Dr. Buell. "It filters all the toxins out of the body via the blood." Because the liver is complex with mul-tiple blood vessels, liver transplantation or surgery is difficult. Yet, UC surgeons do more than 200 liver, pancreas and bile duct surgeries each year at The University Hospital. He also employs new technologies including radio frequency ablation to vaporize tumors in the liver, pancreas or bile duct.

Dr. Buell's advice? "See a doctor if you are not feeling well and you have dark, tarry stools, which are signs of gastrointestional (GI) bleeding." Other symptoms include chills, headache or flushing. Neuroendocrine tumors secrete hormones that can cause flushing and high blood pressure. "If symptoms don't go away, just keep at it like Tehani did until your doctors are able to detect and treat the problem. When GI cancers are caught early, the success rate of treatment improves dramatically," Dr. Buell said.

Dr. Rudich and Michael Hanaway, MD, assistant professor, transplant surgery, are also part of this special surgical team.

 back to list | back to top