UW News

August 24, 1999

UW Medical Center reaches a milestone: performs 500th liver transplant

There’s no special award given for achieving this milestone, but a Fairbanks, Alaska, man knows he’s a winner anyway. The grand prize, he hopes, is a long and healthy life.

Alex Beaudreault of Fairbanks is the recipient of the 500th liver transplant performed at University of Washington Medical Center. Beaudreault (pronounced bo-DRO) received the new liver on Aug. 12, and expects to be discharged from the hospital today. He will remain in the Seattle area for a few weeks for follow-up outpatient visits.

Only 30 years old, Beaudreault required a liver transplant because of a rare hereditary condition called Caroli’s disease, which damages the bile ducts and can cause the liver to enlarge and fail.

“I will always be grateful to the family who made the decision to donate their loved one’s organs for transplant,” said Beaudreault, who does not know the identity of the donor. “They have literally given me a new lease on life.”

He is looking forward to returning to Alaska and resuming his career in the tourism industry. He worked for Princess Tours for seven years and now works at Sophie’s Station Hotel in Fairbanks.

“This is another milestone in the history of organ transplantation in the Northwest,” said Dr. James Perkins, professor of surgery and director of transplantation services at UW Medical Center. “The biggest problem in transplantation remains a severe shortage of donated organs. To help alleviate this shortage, we are moving ahead to expand our split-liver transplantation program and our living-donor program.”

Perkins performed UW Medical Center’s first liver transplant in January 1990. The recipient of that liver was another young man with bile-duct disease, Larry Johnson, who was 29 at the time of his transplant. He is a resident of Spokane.

UW Medical Center and Oregon Health Sciences University are the only medical centers to offer adult liver transplants in the five-state region that encompasses Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

In 1998, 57 liver transplants were performed at UW Medical Center. The survival rate for liver transplants at UW Medical Center is almost 84 percent. Approximately 200 patients are on the waiting list for a liver transplant at UW Medical Center.

To increase the availability of donor livers, the UW transplant program now offers split-liver transplantation, in which a single donor liver is divided into two transplantable liver grafts. This effort to extend a scarce resource could save more than 30 lives a year in the Pacific Northwest.

The UW transplant program achieved another milestone July 21, with the region’s first living-donor transplant. A Kingston, Wash. woman, Wendy Richards, donated a portion of her liver to her toddler son, Coe, whose cancerous liver was removed. Both patients are out of the hospital and doing well.

As of July 9, 1999, there were 13,376 patients waiting for liver transplants in the U.S. But many will die while awaiting a transplant: only 4,450 liver transplants were performed in the U.S. in all of 1998.

For information on organ donation, call Life Center Northwest at (206) 230-5767.