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
"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
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
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
"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.