JUNE 20, 2006 | With tears and hugs and laughter, 19 liver transplant recipients joined family members and supporters at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences on June 11 to celebrate a successful first year of Arkansas’ only liver transplant program.
Many of those recipients noted that they probably would not have lived long enough to see the sunny Sunday reception without a new liver. Youmin Wu, M.D., who led the team that conducted all 28 liver transplant surgeries performed in the first year of the program, praised the patients.
“Our patients should be congratulated,” Wu said. “If they had not trusted me and our transplant team, even though we were a new program, none of this would have been possible.”
On May 14, 2005, Greg Gilliland of Hot Springs became the recipient of a liver transplant performed in Arkansas. He was one of the 19 transplant recipients able to attend the celebration reception held in the Fred W. Smith Conference Center of the Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute at UAMS. The recipients posed for a special group photo during the reception.
Wu praised UAMS Chancellor I. Dodd Wilson, M.D., and UAMS College of Medicine Dean E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., for their vision in establishing the liver transplant program. Wilson thanked Wu for pulling together the transplant team and UAMS Medical Center for supporting the new program.
“UAMS has been home to many Arkansas medical firsts – from the state’s first kidney transplant to the first open heart surgery,” Wilson said. “The state’s first liver transplant was another accomplishment for that list, further improving the quality of health care in Arkansas.”
An emotional Gilliland spoke about the treatment he received from Wu and the transplant program. He and his wife didn’t feel like just another face in the crowd at UAMS, Gilliland said, Wu gave them hope.
“I appreciate the transplant team’s devotion and just who they are as human beings,” said Gilliland, who also credited his family for support.
Suzanne Saettele, another transplant recipient, shared a different story. One where she said she skipped all the worrying about death and woke up in the hospital with a new liver. After becoming ill with what she thought was a sinus infection, Saettele slipped into a coma.
It was discovered her liver had failed for an unknown reason. She did not come out of the coma until after she received a liver transplant in December.
Saettele said she is thankful for how the transplant team pushes her to just feel so normal in her everyday life and with her kids.
Laura Danley, a musician and former liver transplant social worker who had worked with most of the recipients, performed “Cover Me,” a song she wrote about the different stages that the recipients go through, before and after surgery.