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South Florida man receives living donor liver transplant

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WESTON, Fla. – When it came to his health, Abraham Aviv always tried to play his cards right but after suffering from diabetes for 15 years he developed an unexpected consequence: his liver began to fail.

"People can live with one kidney but the liver, it's only one organ and that's it.  When this one's gone, that's it," Aviv said.

He didn't know that diabetes is a risk factor for fatty liver disease which affects over 25 percent of adults in the U.S.

"It's actually very common and in the next year or two it will be the main reason we're transplanting patients," said Dr. Jason Vanatta, director of the Center for Abdominal Transplantation at the Cleveland Clinic Florida.

Vanatta said the liver is the only organ that can regenerate, which makes it possible to be a living donor, although it's not an option in every case.

"Living donor transplant is for someone who's sick and needs a transplant but they have to be able to tolerate getting only a partial liver.  So it's a person who's sick enough to need a transplant but not near the top of the list where they would not be able to physiologically be supported by part of a liver as opposed to a whole liver," Vanatta said.

When Aviv's family members were not good matches, his daughter's boyfriend, Nikko Velazquez, decided to get tested.

"I knew I was a match, I knew deep down from the night we talked about it at dinner when I said let me get tested that I was a match," Velazquez said.

Velazquez and Aviv flew to Cleveland Clinic Ohio for the procedure, which was the first in the region to be performed laparoscopically through tiny incisions in the abdomen.

"Living donor liver transplant surgery is very risky but, thankfully, the complication rate is not high enough that we need to worry about the donor going into liver failure," said Vanatta.

Velazquez donated the left lobe of his liver, which will regenerate in about three months.

"You touch someone in a way that most people don't get to, so it was amazing," he said.
Aviv put it simply:  "Everything worked perfectly." 

Cleveland Clinic Ohio is the second academic medical center to perform a purely laparoscopic living donor surgery for liver transplant.

The minimally invasive technique benefits the living donor, who has better post-op recovery, less pain, smaller scars and lower risk of complications.

Cleveland Clinic Florida collaborates with Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and refers patients who are candidates for living donor transplants.   

The transplant center in Weston will be performing cases locally in the near future.

About the Authors:

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.

Kristi Krueger has built a solid reputation as an award-winning medical reporter and effervescent anchor. She joined Local 10 in August 1993. After many years co-anchoring the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., Kristi now co-anchors the noon newscasts, giving her more time in the evening with her family.