'Mismatched' Liver Transplant Well Worth the Risk
Published January 2008
Anthony Waters never thought banana pudding could taste so good.
Or that adorning a prickly pine tree with all of the season’s trimmings could bring him to tears.
Not until he spent last Thanksgiving in a coma and Christmas Day on the verge of death at University Hospital (UH).
Waters says he was given the gift of life last Christmas after receiving a new liver at UH.
Now, he treasures the littlest things.
“I don’t even remember Thanksgiving last year,” Waters recounts. “Everything around that time frame is such a blur. I just remember being so tired.
“I just wanted to sleep.”
Waters, who has very aggressive hepatitis B, had been receiving treatment in the UH outpatient clinic for cirrhosis of the liver.
In August 2006, he was given the news that he would need a liver transplant.
“I was completely shocked,” he says. “I know how long those waiting lists are.”
Around November 2006, Waters’ condition worsened, and after struggling with consciousness for days, he was admitted to Mercy Hospital in Fairfield with life-threateningly high ammonia levels.
“I woke up from a coma right before they were going to put me on life support,” he says. “They told my mom and my partner that I could leave but to take me to UH if my ammonia levels increased again.”
Even with his deteriorating health, Waters tried to live life to its fullest. He knew something big was waiting in the wings for him.
“I did my Christmas shopping, but I had this notion that I needed to get it done as soon as possible, not because I thought I wasn’t going to be around by the 25th, but because I knew there was something coming,” he says. “I felt like I needed to have all of my shopping done by Dec. 8.”
His clock was right on time.
By Dec. 10, Waters says his partner, Michael Starks, and Michael’s mother, Ginny Starks, observed him acting strangely as his ammonia levels rose.
He says they had to trick him to get him into the car and on his way to the emergency room.
“I kept telling them that I just needed to sleep for awhile and that I would be alright,” he says. “They actually had to tell me we were going out to eat to get me to go with them.”
But once outside the ER doors, Waters says he stopped fighting.
“I actually remember hearing a nurse gasp when she saw me,” he says. Once a healthy, 230-pound, 6-foot-1 man, Waters had shrunk to 140 pounds.
“I still have some of my old belts. I would often punch more holes into the leather so that they would fit, and I wouldn’t have to buy smaller ones.”
Waters says he wasn’t able to tell nurses his address or his social security number.
“And that’s how I knew something was wrong,” he adds.
He was placed in the intensive care unit at UH and remembers how scared he was that he would never leave the hospital again.
His mother, Brenda McGee, arrived at the hospital shortly thereafter.
“When Michael and mom left that night, I remember feeling like I was telling them good-bye for the last time,” he says, his voice cracking as he holds back sobs. “It was very devastating.”
But he didn’t lose hope.
“I told my mom not to worry,” he says. “I told her to wake me up when 2007 gets here and that I would walk back through the hospital doors a healthy man.”
Days later, Waters slipped into another coma and spent Christmas Day hanging to life by a thread.
Then, on Dec. 29, he received the Christmas gift of a lifetime.Michael got a phone call that he was needed at UH. Anthony was getting a liver.
“It was the greatest elation I’ve ever felt in my life,” Starks says. “It was such a relief and way beyond what I expected—I had come to the conclusion he was going to die.”
Amit Tevar, MD, assistant professor and surgeon in the division of transplant surgery at UC, says Waters’ liver came from a patient with a different blood type.
“We used plasmapheresis to remove all of the components of blood that may attack the mismatched liver,” says Tevar, who conducted the surgery.
Plasmapheresis is the removal, treatment and return of the components of blood plasma from blood in circulation.
Tevar says Waters was within 72 hours of dying when he received the transplant.
“He recovered quickly and is now doing great,” he says. “Anthony is a true example of how liver transplants can be beneficial.
“It was a complete turn around.”
Waters, 40, kept his promise and walked through those hospital doors roughly a month later.
Now, he’s not wasting a moment enjoying life.
Waters says McGee fixed an extra large batch of his favorite holiday treat this year, banana pudding, because he was unable to enjoy it last year.
“When I put up my Christmas tree this year, I started crying,” he says. “I kept thinking that this time last year, I wasn’t going to be here. Now, I’m not crying tears of sadness—I’m crying tears of joy. I am so thankful to be alive.”
Anthony Waters (above) credits UC’s Amit Tevar, MD, with saving his life. Tevar used plasmapheresis to remove potentially dangerous blood components from Waters’ mismatched liver. Waters has come full circle since his life-threatening diagnosis a year ago.