PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania – One-in-five people on the waiting list for a donor liver will die before an organ becomes available.
Now, over the past two years, the number of people undergoing living liver transplantation in the U.S. has risen from 300 in 2017 to over 400 in 2018.
37-year old Wayne Livingston hated pancakes until six months ago.
Now he can't get enough of them.
Fitness and pancakes are two things Wayne has in common with 49-year old Rina Kader.
A piece of Rina is now inside Wayne.
He had a life-threatening liver condition, hiding his yellowing eyes behind dark glasses. He needed a transplant but couldn't even get on the donor list because of insurance restrictions.
Despite growing fatigue last year, Wayne continued his landscaping job.
"I was at Rina's and was letting her know I might not be able to cut your grass in the fall," he remembered.
"She said 'Why, what`s wrong?' I said I have to have a liver transplant and I don't know what that's going to look like."
In that instant, Rina made a decision to help a man she barely knew.
"The need was there," she said. "And I felt I could fill it."
Nationwide, five percent of all liver donations are from a live donor.
At the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Pittsburgh, it's 55%.
With living liver donation, surgeons need just a portion since it has the unique ability to grow back.
"So within eight to ten weeks the liver will regenerate back to full size," explained Dr. Abhi Humar, UPMC's Chief of Transplant Surgery.
LIVER REGENERATION: Liver regeneration after partial hepatectomy is a very complex and well-orchestrated phenomenon. It is carried out by the participation of all mature liver cell types. The process is associated with signaling cascades involving growth factors, cytokines, matrix remodeling, and several feedbacks of stimulation and inhibition of growth-related signals. Liver manages to restore any lost mass and adjust its size to that of the organism, while at the same time providing full support for body homeostasis during the entire regenerative process. Despite multiple studies of liver regeneration, many aspects of this phenomenon remain to be further understood.
On October 22nd, both Rina and Wayne entered the hospital.
Rina's surgery started first, followed by Wayne's.
Both were successful.
"All these beautiful wonderful things in life have to start somewhere with one person saying yes," said Rina.
One person's leap-of-faith, becoming another's second chance.
Just ask Wayne.
"My angel happened to be someone I was cutting grass for. Who knew?"
Wayne's wife Tasha was willing to donate a portion of her liver to him, but as his primary caretaker after the surgery, doctors would not consider her. None of his family members were a match.
Wayne says after everything they've been through, he and Tasha consider Rina a sister, not just a friend or donor.