Living Liver Donation Surgery Journal: One Year Later


This is a bonus edition to a 3-part journal that documents my experience as a living liver donor at Yale New Haven Hospital during the summer of 2017. The first part covers the decision-making process, testing and the time leading up to surgery. The second part is about my time in the hospital, and the third part (still being edited) covers my recovery and getting back to normal life. I documented all this to be a resource for other potential donors, to be able to read a first-hand account from someone who went through this process as an altruistic donor. I hope you’ll find this interesting. I found being a living liver donor to be an incredibly rewarding undertaking for so many reasons that has hopefully come through in my writing.

Ryan Lee (left) and Dr. Mulligan

One Year Later

The past year has flown by. It’s funny because I often forget the surgery ever happened, and having lost (and kept off) nearly 20 pounds as part of the process, I feel healthier than ever. I’ve put over 400 miles on my running shoes and started going to the gym. I think it would be cool to have six-pack abs surrounding my incisional scar so I’ve been working towards maxing out all the ab machines in the weight room. While definitely cautious of hernias early on, once the surgeons told me I was no longer at risk of anything like that I decided to slowly start building back up my core strength. Remembering back to when I couldn’t even lift my body up off the hospital mattress, it’s taken far less time to get myself onto the path I want to be on, even if that elusive six-pack never happens.

I had my one-year follow-up appointment a few days ago and Dr. Mulligan told me everything is looking good. As a little extra reassurance, the CT Scan shows that my liver indeed grew back. We had a good laugh at its shape and I’m still amazed that the shape makes no difference.

People I haven’t seen in a long time that knew about the surgery will ask me, “How are you feeling?” and I’m more apt to comment on getting over a recent cold than I am to think about how my body feels post-surgery. It’s been a very long time since I recall any physical limitations, pain or concerns. For sure there are different feelings in the abdominal section of the front of my body but nothing feels weird inside or outside. If anything at all, I feel a slightly tight feeling along my incision where the scar tissue is, and if I lay on my stomach on a hard surface, I feel a different sensation than I used to. That’s it. I’m not glossing over anything. The purpose of this blog, as I’ve stated before is to give a real-life, in depth and personal account of living liver surgery.

A year later it’s as if it never happened.

However… It sure as heck did happen

To this day, this is one of the things I’m most proud of ever doing in my life. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the gravity of this will never truly resonate in full, and I’m ok with that. I’m a person who tends to overthink every aspect of my life… Except this. I have no doubts, concerns about repercussions (physically or mentally), no concerns about not being able to donate my liver to someone in my family if that ever were to become a need and no concerns about my longterm quality or length of life. As I’ve said before, this felt like something that would be possible to undertake, and the year after surgery has been incredible.

Over the past year, Rob and I have done several talks about the process of his need to find a donor, and how I ultimately became his donor. Yale New Haven Hospital has a monthly educational session for folks who need to find a living donor and we’ve gone to several of them to provide, in addition to some tips about how to go about finding a donor, a sense of hope. When it’s only the hospital telling a sick patient to keep their chin up, that can get tiring. When a real pair of donor and recipient share their story, it’s a more personal connection.

We’ve also spoken to a few of the local high school health classes about the importance of being a donor when they get their drivers license, and to a church group. We helped raise the Donate Life flag at the town hall for National Donate Life Month and have, in general, been fairly vocal about what a difference an act of kindness can make in someone’s life.

Melanie and I have considered starting a podcast. We launched this website. Melanie did a cheek swab for Be The Match in the hopes of someday being a bone marrow donor. We’ve met countless donors and recipients of all types, and one thing I’m very proud of is helping to council several other patients and/or family members or friends of people who need a liver. And in the spirit of continuing to try to help, please consider calling to see if you could be a Miracle for Maddie.

This has been an unexpected journey, to say the least. A year and a half ago I didn’t even know the liver could be donated. A year after surgery I’m feeling healthier than ever and am doing anything I can to help find more donors for more people who need them. In the grand scheme (and timeline) of life, this was a very small undertaking. It was a lot to go through, physically, for what I consider to be a very short amount of time. But the long-term emotional and spiritual strength I’ve gained are something I would never trade for anything.

Thank you for coming along on this journey with me, and here’s hoping this journal will be helpful to someone out there who may change the course of another person’s destiny.

2 thoughts on “Living Liver Donation Surgery Journal: One Year Later”

  1. An amazing act of kindness and a wonderful capture of your experience from a truly humble person. Your gift of life is larger than so many give but a reminder that even small gifts and acts of kindness are important and can touch someone’s life.

    When I first learned about your decision to do this, it made me stop and ask what am I doing and how can I pass it on? I have always spoken about gratitude and empathy as two very important things to our girls.

    While by no stretch anything near the magnitude of what you have done, in the spirit of doing good and showing appreciation, we started something at home this past winter. It is the RAK and Gratitude jar. Our family (and niece who lived with us last year) were encouraged to jot down a daily random act of kindness they performed or express gratitude for something someone has done for them, or just something they appreciate. Every couple of weeks we would read them at dinner.

    What I loved most is that the RAKs became more thoughtful. Our girls began to go out of their way to do kind gestures. We have lapsed in our commitment to recording this daily but plan to reignite this new practice.

    Thank you for reminding me that we can celebrate our actions and inspiring this for our family. Keep sharing your story. It has ripple effects, spreading kindness, appreciation and love.

  2. Words could never express my pride, love and admiration of you. It is an honor to know you.
    Please do the podcast. It will be enjoyed by many.

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