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YOUR HEALTH: Surgeons created a 3-D liver so they could transplant a real one

The family and surgeons knew exactly how both livers looked before transplant. The team used 3-D imaging to print models.

MURRAY, Utah – Gwen Finlayson's autoimmune hepatitis led to cirrhosis years ago.

"A lot of fatigue and that really is the biggest thing, not being able to have the energy to do the things you want to do."

She was on the liver transplant list.

Then her son, Brandon, offered to donate part of his.

"She needed this, and for the couple months of discomfort, that was well worth it," he recalled.

Nearly 14,000 people are on the liver transplant list.  Experts say about 10% of them will die or become too sick for transplant before it's their turn.

"The reason why a live donation is important to do before the patients get too sick is because you're not doing a full liver, you're only doing 40% to 60%," said Dr. Manuel Rodriguez-Davalos, program director of the Living Liver Donor Transplant Program at Intermountain Healthcare Transplant Services.

Gwen is petite, so Dr. Rodriguez took Brandon's smaller left lobe, which is usually done for adolescents.

It's the first time it's been done between adults in Utah.

The family and surgeons knew exactly how both livers looked before transplant.

The team used 3-D imaging to print models.

"The fact that we're able to kind of go over step by step," said Dr. Rodriguez..

"It's just so much easier than just seeing a CAT scan on the screen."

Gwen's son was amazed.

"Beforehand, we could see her liver, we could see my liver, and we could see exactly how they were going to cut it open," Brandon remembered.

Brandon was home in five days, Gwen in nine.

Both their livers grew back to functioning size.

Now, she is looking ahead and thankful every day.

"When I have milestones, when things are great, when things are going well, I try to reach out and tell him," said Gwen.

"I want him to know how grateful I am."

Dr. Rodriguez plans to make 3-D models of Brandon's and Gwen's livers in a year to see how they've grown.

Intermountain Transplant Services recently got a grant to create a 3-D printed liver library.

Dr. Rodriguez says models of donor and recipient livers will help educate patients and surgeons in training.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.