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The Greatest Gift: A liver transplant donor's story

The Greatest Gift: A liver transplant donor's story

Isaiah was presented with opportunity to save the life of his best friend, through organ donation. He did it. It was successful. And, in his words:

“I would do the surgery again one thousand times over!” 

Liver transplant recipient

These two best friends share more than friendship. They now share a liver. 

We met Isaiah Haynie in the fall of 2021 through his friend, and our friend Jodi Estep. Jodi is a breast cancer survivor from West Virginia who we’ve come to know quite well because every October she raises money to purchase Brobes for the patients at St Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia, the same hospital where she was treated for breast cancer. Jodi let Isaiah borrow her Brobe for his organ transplant surgery recovery.

Without hesitation, 43 year old Isaiah Haynie says he offered his friend Eric part of his liver after Eric was diagnosed with cancer.

“Eric still has the text I sent him from the first day I found out about his cancer diagnosis where I asked him if I could donate part of my liver. That was 15 months before a living donor transplant was even an option.”

Liver transplants are unique

Did you know that a liver transplant involves transplanting only a portion of a living person's liver? The rest grows back for the donor over time, and the donated portion inside the recipient also grows to full size over time.

Any organ donation that is done by a living person is called a "living" or "live" donation. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, nearly 6,000 living donations take place each year. 

Liver transplants are common, but kidney transplants are the most common live donations, because people have 2 kidneys and only need 1. Unlike livers, kidneys do not regrow. Part of the lung, pancreas or part of the intestines can also be donated while alive, but, similar to kidneys, those organs do not regrow.

Isaiah was able to give Eric 60% of his liver.

“After surgery when I woke up, I had IVs, leads, pumps, and tubes and hoses everywhere. All were vital to monitoring everything that was going on with my body after a traumatic procedure.

“The Brobe was very helpful while I was in the hospital with all that stuff hanging off me.” 


Isaiah recovering from surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in a Brobe he borrowed from his friend Jodi. 

Liver transplant recovery time varies

Everyone will recover on a different timeline, but most liver donors spend about seven days in the hospital and will need about six to eight weeks to recover. The weeks following surgery were very tough for Isaiah:

“It was the toughest thing physically I have ever been through. The first two weeks were the worst kind of pain b/c even with the drugs being administered it was extremely uncomfortable and painful. I didn’t sleep much for two weeks, hallucinated, hurt, nauseous, and needed help doing basic life functions. After the first two weeks the pain leveled off some and was more tolerable and I was able to finally rest and get some sleep.

“The morning of the surgery Eric, his wife Wendy, my wife Rachel and myself had to be at the hospital really early. We sat together for a little while then they took us back to start pre-op stuff. Eric and I had a chance to kiss our brides and say our “see you laters” then they took us back where the surgical teams came and spoke to us about the procedure. They would take Eric back first and open him up to ensure he was still a viable candidate to receive part of my liver. After about 30 minutes they came and got me and took me back to the surgical suite where we waited for what seemed like forever then a nurse came in and told us the transplant was a go. This is what we had all been praying for and God answered our prayers and the transplant was going to happen. After I told the nurse, “Let’s do this,” I don’t remember much from there till I woke up in the Transplant ICU or TICU.

“My procedure consisted of making an incision from the bottom of my chest or sternum to my belly button which is about 8”-9” long. They also inserted a couple of drains into my belly and several IVs in my arm and neck.”

What are the risks of liver transplants?

With any major surgery, there are of course risks. Donors need to be in good health, and would not be eligible to donate if they have diabetes, cancer or high blood pressure, among other health issues. Isaiah said there really wasn’t much pre op preparation required.

“God was preparing me long before I knew. I lost a few pounds to get my weight closer to his but other than that we were a perfect match.”

A good support system is clutch

Isaiah went into surgery feeling prepared thanks to a strong support system at home.

“Make sure you have a support system of people willing to help because you are going to need a lot of help during recovery. My wife Rachel was a rock star. She had to help dress me, help me walk, feed me at times, make sure I took the correct medications, bathe me, dress me, help me in and out of the restroom and basically wait on me hand and foot till I was strong enough to take care of myself.”

“Our church, River Cities Community Church, that Eric and I both attend, was The Church to us both. They gave us money, gas cards, cooked food, bought food, gift cards, cash, prayers and support like I have truly never seen before. It was very humbling. I just can’t imagine going through something like this without a support system like I had. I am very blessed.”

We always recommend having a friend or family member you can rely on for your surgery prep, while you’re at the hospital or surgery center and for those weeks and even months following surgery. If you need extra support we highly recommend speaking with your medical team about that. There’s likely a local nonprofit or organization or church that has programs in place to help those who don’t have access to pre and post op care. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, we all need it so you truly are not alone!

Final thoughts after getting to know Isaiah

What I found so incredible when writing this blog post is that Isaiah was able to give his friend Eric 60% of his liver. It’s amazing and fascinating that we are able to give more than half of our liver to someone else, and the remaining portion of our liver will grow back to its original size. Talk about a mind blown moment when you take time to think about that. I’m always curious about the first person who was willing to try that medical breakthrough on themselves. 

I’d imagine a lot of us are signed up for organ donation should we be involved in an accident. Though none of us want that, it is an incredible gift and legacy to leave behind, and to be able to give a part of yourself to someone in need while you’re still alive, what an incredible opportunity. 

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