First living-donor liver transplant recipient graduates from high school May 27

First living-donor liver transplant recipient graduates from high school May 27

May 25, 2006

At 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 27, at Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, Texas, Alyssa Smith, the recipient of the world's first successful living-donor liver transplant, will graduate from high school.

On November 27, 1989, a surgical team at the University of Chicago Medical Center performed Alyssa's transplant. They removed a portion of the liver from her mother, Teresa Smith, a 29-year-old woman from Schertz, Texas (20 miles from San Antonio), and transplanted that tissue into her 21-month-old daughter. Alyssa, who weighed 25 pounds at the time, suffered from biliary atresia, the most common fatal liver disease in childhood.

Although physicians spoke at length with Teri Smith, the donor, about potential risks, she insisted that the decision to donate was an easy one. "Once you've given someone a big piece of your heart," Smith told reporters, "it's easy to throw in a little bit of liver."

Surgery began at 7:30 a.m. when the transplant team--surgeons Christoph Broelsch, Jean Emond, Richard Thistlethwaite and Thomas Heffron--began the removal of the left lobe of Mrs. Smith's liver.

Press coverage was extensive. On December 20, 1989, First Lady Barbara Bush called Teresa Smith to congratulate her and to wish her well.

Alyssa left the hospital to stay at the nearby Ronald McDonald House on January 8, 1990. On January 12, after inviting the entire medical team to Alyssa's anticipated graduation 16 years later, Alyssa and Teresa flew back to San Antonio, where they were met by the Schertz school district marching band. Alyssa now plays clarinet and bass clarinet in that band.

Alyssa has completely recovered and leads a normal life. Her anti-rejection medications were gradually reduced and for three years she has been off of them entirely. She is active in several school groups and studies ballet.

One of her classmates had a kidney transplant a few years ago and, according to her father, John Smith, Alyssa was quite a comfort to her. Until then, despite the publicity (the Smiths have several boxes of news clips in their garage), most of her school friends did not know that she had had a liver transplant.

In the fall Alyssa will attend Meredith College, in Raleigh, NC. She plans to become a medical social worker.