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Utah woman bounces back from liver transplant using modern technique

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Daily Herald | Jul 2, 2024
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Sophie Hansen, 22, of Bountiful, received a new liver through Intermountain Health using a new organ-saving device that helps to keep donated livers in a near-normal physiological condition outside of the body before surgery. Intermountain Medical Center in Murray is the first in the state to use the technology.
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Sophie Hansen, 22, of Bountiful, who received a new liver through Intermountain Health using a new organ-saving device that helps to keep donated livers in a near-normal physiological condition outside of the body before surgery, presents information from a school research paper two weeks after her surgery.
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Sophie Hansen, 22, of Bountiful, received a new liver through Intermountain Health using a new organ-saving device that helps to keep donated livers in a near-normal physiological condition outside of the body before surgery. Intermountain Medical Center in Murray is the first in the state to use the technology.

A Bountiful woman is one of just a handful of Utah patients whose lives have been saved by new state-of-art liver technology.

Sophie Hansen, 22, was just 3 years old when she was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a disease that causes inflammation and scarring within the bile ducts, which carry digestive bile from the liver to the small intestine. The scarring causes the bile ducts to become hard and narrow, eventually causing serious damage to the liver.

Because her condition was caught early, doctors were able to stabilize Hansen until she became sick at the age of 11 and was put on the liver transplant waiting list. After four years, she received a transplant. Then, last year, her condition returned and in January she once again was placed on the transplant list.

After a month, she received a call that a second liver was available, but it was a donation after circulatory death, or DCD. This is a new method of liver transplantation using the organ from a donor whose heart has stopped beating.

“It was scary to accept anything but a perfect organ, but I was super excited knowing about the technology that was being used,” she said. “We also had complete trust in the team.”

The donation was performed at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray using the OrganOx, a liver pump that provides constant circulation of oxygenated blood, nutrients and medications at normal body temperature. The technique mimics the conditions inside the body. The technology includes a pump that functions as the heart, an oxygenator mimicking the lungs and other systems that continuously provide nutrients to the organ, making it functional throughout the preservation and transport. The OrganOx kept the donor liver filtering and oxygenated outside of the body until Hansen was ready for surgery.

“This technology allows the donor liver to remain viable for longer periods of time, extending the time from organ removal to transplant from just hours to more than one day, and potentially travel longer distances between donor and recipient sites,” said Dr. Jean Botha, medical director of Intermountain Health’s abdominal transplant program and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital’s pediatric transplant program. “The device also enables real-time assessment of liver function and quality, which may help to increase the pool of suitable organs for transplantation.”

Since using the new technology, the transplant program has seen a 367% growth from 2018 to 2023, making it the third-fastest-growing liver program in the nation with better than national outcomes and the shortest wait times for a liver transplant, according to Intermountain.

Two weeks after receiving her transplant, Hansen said she traveled to Colorado to present her latest research paper for school. She’s also returned to hiking and finishing up college. Because of her illness, she has pursued a career in liver disease research, hoping to help more kids like herself.

“This is potentially life changing for the thousands of patients on the national waiting list for a liver transplant, and the more than a thousand patients a year who die waiting for a liver to become available,” said Dr. Richard Gilroy, transplant hepatologist and Intermountain Health’s liver transplant medical director. “Because of this technology, we are able to use livers from donors that would previously not even have been considered for donation.”

Approximately 10,000 liver transplants are performed across the country each year, but there is still a waiting list of another 10,000 who are in need of a new liver, according to Intermountain Health. In addition, someone is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes and another 17 people die every day waiting for a new liver. More than 2,000 livers are discarded each year from lack of surviving the typical cold preservation or from oxygen deprivation.

Since 1986, when Intermountain Health’s adult liver transplant program began, more than 1,000 transplants have been performed, including living-related, deceased donor and split liver transplantation. So far, Intermountain has performed 35 transplants using the DCD technology.

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