CHICAGO (CBS)–Two 29-year-old transplant patients who underwent the same rare surgeries at University of Chicago Medicine made history after receiving triple-organ transplants to replace their hearts, livers and kidneys–which were all failing.
The patients. Sarah McPharlin of Michigan and Daru Smith of the South Side of Chicago, both needed transplants to replace their three major organs, which had begun to fail for different reasons.
McPharlin, an occupational therapist from Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, received her first heart transplant when she was 12-years-old after she contacted a rare inflammatory heart condition. That heart began to fail over the next 17 years, however, causing complications that damaged her livery and kidney, according to the University of Chicago.
Smith, the father of a 3-year-old who drives a truck for a living, was diagnosed with a condition five years ago that causes clusters of inflammatory cells to form inside organ tissues, damaging his heart, liver and kidney. When he arrived at the hospital with pneumonia, his heart was functioning at only 85 percent of its usual capacity, a statement from the hospital said.
“It’s too early,” said Dr. Valluvan Jeevanandam, chief of cardiac surgery at UChicago Medicine, referring to Smith’s age.
Other hospitals declined their cases. The McPharlin family said they were offered hospice care for their daughter.
“We really thought we were at a dead end,” her mother said.
But a twist of fate changed everything.
Despite both transplants being high-risk, the medical staff at University of Chicago Medicine accepted their rare cases.
“Knowing that other hospitals wouldn’t take them–it was the right thing,” Jeevanandam said.
After waiting for organ donors, both McPharlin and Smith had a stroke of luck on Dec. 18 and 19 when their doctors received calls letting them know the organs had become available. The patients would each get new organs from single donors.
Surgeons completed both surgeries on Dec. 20–finishing both within 20 hours–marking the first time in U.S. history that a hospital has ever performed more than one triple-organ transplant within a year, according to UChicago Medicine.
Doctors said teams of 22 surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists worked in rotations to transplant the organs, which had to be placed inside the patients’ bodies in a specific order, with the hearts going in first.
“The element of time adds pressure to what we do because we have only about four to six hours once the heart leaves the donor, while the other organs can last a little longer,” Jeevanandam said. “A triple transplant magnifies the complexity and coordination of the process because the heart needs to go in first and be maintained while the other teams work to get the liver and then the kidney in.”
Both patients are still recovering, and plan to have a meal together with their families after they’re released from the hospital.
“I haven’t had this much energy in a very long time,” McPharlan said, speaking from her hospital bed.
She said she’s looking forward to getting outside in the sun, and to making a return to work.
Smith is eager to spend time with his son, and said he’s looking forward to exploring a new career.