An Extraordinary Gift From A Sister-In-Law

August 01, 2016

In 2004, Chris Wagner was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, an autoimmune disease affecting the liver's bile ducts. Doctors told him that although his ulcerative colitis was the more pressing issue to treat, within the next ten years he would need a transplant because of liver disease.

While serving in the US Army, Chris kept fighting his illness and for his country. After his service was finished, he attended Capital Law school where he met his wife, Ashley, and started practicing law full-time. Shortly after the birth of their second son, Chris began working as a legal advisor at his father-in-law's company, Chemspec Ltd.

In 2014, Chris was placed on the transplant list as his liver started to deteriorate. Chris continued working and waiting for another two years while he waited for a transplant to become available. At the beginning of this year, Chris learned that only 5 percent of his liver was working and even after an outpouring of support, no match had been found. It was then that his sister-in-law Mollie Moreland, a nurse at the Cleveland Clinic, decided she needed to help.

"Looking at a life without him, it just wasn't a possibility," says Mollie. "Something had to be done."

"It's a humbling experience when you start looking for a live donor and people actually start to volunteer, because it is a dangerous procedure for them."

Living donor liver transplants are not the typical scenario most people envision when they think about the process of a patient receiving an organ donation. In a living donor liver transplantation, a piece of liver is surgically removed from a living person and transplanted into a recipient immediately after the recipient’s diseased liver has been entirely removed.

The greatest advantage for the patient is that he or she can receive a transplant without having to wait on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) transplant waiting list, which can take months or even years. In the United States, there are over 17,000 patients on the waiting list for a liver transplant, but only enough donated livers to perform about 6,000 transplants each year. As a result, more than 1,700 patients die each year, while on liver waiting lists.

"It's a humbling experience when you start looking for a live donor and people actually start to volunteer, because it is a dangerous procedure for them," Chris says.

After several rounds of testing, Mollie and Chris learned from Dr. Nizar Zein, Chris' hepatologist at the Cleveland Clinic, that she was a match. On July 8, Mollie donated 63 percent of her liver. The surgery performed by Cleveland Clinic transplant surgeon Koji Hashimoto, MD, PhD and his team, took nearly 14 hours and saved Chris' life.

Both Chris and Mollie's livers are nearly regenerated almost a month after the surgery, growing until they both are proportioned to the correct size and producing healthy enzyme levels.

Chris and Ashley are so thankful to their family for all the support they've provided. They know without their help, especially Mollie's, Chris would not be here today.