WEST READING, PA — Tower Health Transplant Institute (THTI) performed its first liver transplant at Reading Hospital on Thursday, December 3. The surgery was performed by Tower Health transplant surgeons David J. Reich, MD, FACS; Gary S. Xiao, MD, FACS; and Stephen R. Guy, MD, FACS.
Alex Beltran, 36, of Reading, was the first recipient of a new liver at THTI. Alex, a husband and father of two, suffered from Wilson’s liver disease, a rare inherited genetic disease in which dangerous levels of copper can accumulate in the liver, brain, and other organs.
“The Tower Health Transplant Institute team is tremendous, and I don’t know what I would do without them,” said Mr. Beltran. “The whole hospital, the nurses, the individuals who take you for tests. I felt comfortable with them and I trusted them. After my recovery I look forward to playing with my kids. They are amazing.”
During the last weeks in November, Alex’s liver functions quickly declined. Without an immediate transplant, patients with such severely weakened livers – known to have fulminant Wilson’s disease – suffer near universal mortality. These patients are ranked Status 1A, the most critically ill and high-risk among waitlisted individuals. Of all liver transplants performed in the United States, only approximately 3 percent are for status 1A candidates.
Dr. Reich, Director of Tower Health Transplant Institute, commented that “Alex is incredibly resilient, determined to live and be a great father and husband. He was fortunate to connect early on with a transplant center.” Dr. Reich credited THTI’s Medical Director of Liver Transplant and the Center for Liver Disease, Santiago J. Munoz, MD, FACP, FACG, and his hepatology colleagues, Vishal Patel, MD; Andres R. Riera, MD; and Eyob L. Feyssa, MD, MPH, FACP, “for deftly shepherding Mr. Beltran through his many medical challenges, enabling him to survive until a transplant was possible.”
Dr. Munoz explained that “An emergent liver transplant was the only option for Alex’s survival. Given his worsening condition Alex had priority for the first available liver within a 500-mile radius. He matched with the donor in the nick of time and got his chance. His highly skilled surgeons performed a perfect liver transplant.”
“I was in the hospital when I received the call that there was a liver available for me,” Mr. Beltran shared. “It was 3:39 a.m. and the nurse was there to take my vitals. I immediately called my wife and then my mom. They both said, ‘There is a God and he heard our prayers.’”
Dr. Reich noted that “As it turns out the donor was nearby and shared a rare arterial blood supply to the liver that Alex had. It was a special match. The transplant surgery was demanding but Alex remained stable and the operation was completed smoothly. Post-surgery he had excellent liver function and recovered ahead of pace.” Dr. Reich praised co-surgeons Dr. Xiao and Dr. Guy “for their absolute dedication, talent, and skill.” He added, “Liver transplant patients typically stay in the hospital an average of 12 days. Alex was able to return home in just one week and it is most gratifying that he’s healed so remarkably well.”
Dr. Munoz hopes that Alex’s story encourages other patients. He pointed out that “some patients have curtailed their medical care because of COVID-19 fears, but timely visits with healthcare experts can be lifesaving. Tower Health has COVID-safe pathways to care for transplant candidates and recipients, and all other patients.”
Clint Matthews, Tower Health President and CEO said “Tower Health is committed to providing world-class care in our communities, so patients and families do not have to travel out of our region. Lifesaving organ transplants are a true team effort of specialists in hepatology, nephrology, surgery, anesthesiology, cardiology, infectious disease, radiology, critical care, pharmacy, nursing, social work, nutrition, physical therapy, and other clinical and administrative fields. Transplant surgeries are complex procedures, and even more so during COVID-19. In the spring our team established additional “COVID-safe” protocols above the hospitals standard procedures to protect patients and team members. I am proud of the expert skill and compassion of all the team members involved.”<
Mr. Beltran added, “Organ donation is a special gift and saved my life. I wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t happened. I think about it a lot that someone passed away, but I am grateful that I get to see my kids grow.” For additional information on organ donation visit donatelifepa.org.
The Tower Health Transplant Institute and Center for Liver Disease provides liver and kidney transplantation, hepato-pancreato-biliary (HPB) surgery, hepatology, and transplant nephrology inpatient services at Reading Hospital; selected inpatient services at Chestnut Hill Hospital; and outpatient services at Reading Hospital and in Center City Philadelphia. The THTI team, formerly located at Hahnemann University Hospital, joined Tower Health in late 2019 and cares for thousands of patients from around the region.
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