Monday, July 27, 2009

Ontario couple looking for living liver donor


COBOURG, ON -- Life-long Cobourg residents Reg and Sara Woods are in a race against time, looking for a living liver donor before Mr. Woods’ liver cancer spreads to the rest of his body.

“Time is of the essence. If the cancer spreads anywhere else, they won’t do the transplant,” said Ms. Woods.

Arriving at the Woods’ east Cobourg home, I think I have the wrong house when I find Mr. Woods outside doing yard work in the immaculately cared for lawn and garden.

“Oh yeah, I look after the yard. Yeah, I feel pretty good,” said Mr. Woods.

Inside the house, he admits it was actually during yard work when he first got a pain in his side that would eventually be diagnosed as liver cancer.

“I thought I’d pulled a muscle. Went to the doctor and he spotted a puffiness in my liver area,” said Mr. Woods.

Mr. Woods was diagnosed with hepatoma, a type of cancer that starts in the liver, in November 2008. After six months of testing he was only recently approved as a potential liver transplant recipient. The surgery could save his life.

“We’re just so lucky to get on the transplant list,” said Ms. Woods. “That’s a big hurdle.”

Now the trick is finding a liver donor. Mr. Woods is on the deceased donor list, but there’s no telling how many are on the list before him and how long he might have to wait. Luckily his AB blood type means he can receive a liver from any donor blood type. Patients can wait from 24 hours to three years for a transplant based on the severity of their illness and the availability of a compatible donor organ, according to the Canadian Liver Foundation.

The wait-time for a liver transplant has motivated the couple to look for a living liver donor. If a compatible donor is found, the entire right lobe of the donor’s liver will be transplanted. It’s a major surgery with a five to 10 day hospital stay and two or three month rehabilitation, but within the first few months the liver regenerates to 90 percent of its original size.

“They’ve done over 300 liver transplants at Princess Margaret. They’ve never lost anyone, they’re very careful,” said Ms. Woods.

While waiting for a new liver, Mr. Woods is undergoing a very targeted form of chemotherapy to fight the tumor’s growth. A catheter is inserted through the groin and fed up into the liver so the chemo can be injected straight into the tumor.

“They’re not comfortable,” said Mr. Woods, with a gift for understatement.

He’s hospitalized for a week for the procedure and it takes around a month for him to get his strength back. Mr. Woods will have to do this every four months while he waits for a donor to be found.

The couple is turning to family, friends and the public looking for a donor who will be compatible for Mr. Woods. Their son is helping with the search by starting a blog at*. The couple is asking anyone interested in being assessed as a potential donor to call Transplant Coordinator Cailin Macleod at 416-340-4800, ext. 7594.

“He’s been fairly comfortable and we’ve carried on. He’s been lucky, he’s felt well,” said Ms. Woods.

“I’m lucky so far but eventually luck runs out,” said Mr. Woods matter-of-factly.

*I would also recommend that Mr. Woods sign up with Matching Donors - Merv.

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