Spencer Glendon has lived with progressively dire medical circumstances for most of his adult life. As a young man, he had suffered from ulcerative colitis (UC). He was later diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) – a rare autoimmune disease caused by progressive inflammation and scarring of the bile ducts of the liver. The buildup of scar tissue makes the ducts narrower and stiffer, impeding the flow of bile and eventually spreading throughout the liver and causing cirrhosis and liver failure. The disease is progressive and there is no known way to stop or slow its degenerative process. The only definitive treatment is liver transplantation.
Spencer was told that he might not notice many problems from the disease for several years, but that at some point in the future (anywhere between 5 and 15 years), he would start to have more serious problems as the general functioning of his liver started to be compromised. So he and his wife, Lisa Tung, began the exhaustive process of researching PSC and figuring out where to get the best care, eventually choosing Dr. Frederic Gordon and the team at Lahey Clinic. Spencer noted, “Boston has hospitals that are more famous than Lahey, but Lahey has one of the very best – if not the best – liver transplant programs in the country and has experience with forms of treatment that other hospitals do not. We got great recommendations from people we know, trust, and love; we liked how Dr. Gordon thought about my disease and the relationship that would likely grow over time.”
In August 2009, Spencer had his first episode of cholangitis, which led to the swelling of his abdomen and severe pain. After that episode, he started having problems more frequently. His day-to-day health declined; he was constantly fatigued, and he had persistent anemia and muscular atrophy as his body struggled to fight the chronic infection and inflammation. It was time to look into transplant.
Although most liver transplants come from a deceased donor, there are currently only enough organs from deceased donors available for approximately one-third of the more than 17,000 people on liver transplant waiting lists nationally. The other option for patients is live donor liver transplantation. The liver, unique among organs in humans, will regenerate. So, when part of a liver is taken from a live donor for transplantation, the segment that remains in the donor will regenerate to nearly its original size while the segment transplanted into the recipient will regenerate to a size determined by the recipient’s body type.
After weighing their options, Spencer and Lisa decided to pursue the live donor process. The immediate response from their friends was exceptional. Carl and Bridget Long – close friends (Spencer and Lisa are godparents to their boys, Findley and Calvin) and neighbors – immediately got tested. Carl was a match.
On the morning of July 27, Spencer and Carl reported to Lahey Clinic for surgery. Each met with their specific team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, residents and fellows. Over the next eight hours the surgeons worked diligently to separate the left lobe of Carl’s healthy liver and transplant it into Spencer to replace his diseased liver.
The surgery was a success, both for the patients and physicians, as well as for the transplant field. Carl and Spencer were the 232nd case of live donor liver transplant at Lahey, but there had only been a couple of left-lobe transplants before theirs.
Today, a year after his surgery, those meeting Spencer for the first time would have no idea what he’s been through. His liver is now full-sized, his weight is healthy, his eyes are clear, and his color is back to normal. “I am healthier than I’ve been since I was 15. I’m healthier than when Carl and I met,” he notes. Long concurs, “I think that’s true for me as well.”