By Stephanie Stahl
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A lifesaving transplant operation using one organ for two patients is remarkable science. And it is that science that created a special family bond.
“I had staples, she had stitches, mine were dissolve stitches,” says Tom Fitzpatrick of Drexel Hill. Comparing scars is not something most fathers and daughters do together. “Mine’s more red than his,” says daughter Katie Fitzpatrick.
And it’s not just scars they share.
Part of Katie’s liver saved her father’s life. “We’ve always been close, but just the fact that she was willing to go through that,” said Tom about Katie’s surgery. “It just meant a lot to me.”
“I mean, he’s my best friend, so I didn’t like to see him getting sick,” said Katie. Tom Fitzpatatrick who is 64 years old had been living with hepatitis C for years, but then his liver failed during Katie’s senior year at Mansfield University where she was a star on the basketball team.
As she was setting records on the court, her dad, who had been on the transplant waiting list couldn’t wait any longer.
“Living donor transplanting is a way to provide a liver to a patient who may not be able to get a deceased donor transplant,” explains Dr. Kim Olthoff who is Chief of Transplant Surgery at Penn Medicine.
“The liver is unique,” says Dr. Olthoff. “It’s the only solid organ in the body that has the ability to grow and regenerate.”
Katie and her four brothers were tested along with other family members to see if any of them would be a suitable match for the transplant, but it was Katie who was the only match.
“I was just hoping it would be somebody else,” said Tom. The retired truck driver was worried about his 22-year-old daughter having major surgery and losing part of her liver.
“He told me a thousand times that I didn’t have to do it, that there was no pressure, that we could figure something else out,” said Katie. “That wasn’t really ever an option since I knew I was a match, I was just ready to go through with it.”
“She never listens to me,” said Tom as he laughed.
“You can see we actually measure the size of her liver,” said Dr. Olthoff. In June Dr. Olthoff removed 60 percent of Katie’s liver and transplanted it into her father. “Their operations went very smoothly,” said Dr. Olthoff.
And now father and daughter are back outside, shooting hoops with that special connection.
“It’s my dad so it wasn’t really a hard choice,” said Katie. “I was happy that I was a match and that it would be able to work out.”
The latest imaging shows Katie’s liver has already grown back to it’s normal size in just 3 months and Tom’s liver is functioning perfectly.