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U. alumnus gets new lease on life

U. alumnus’ second liver transplant is first for University Hospital

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University Hospital became the second Utah hospital to offer liver transplants Feb. 12, performing the delicate surgery on a University of Utah alumnus.

Dr. John Sorensen transplanted a liver in Salt Lake native Jeff Call, 56. It was a second liver transplant for Call, who was expected to leave the hospital Saturday to begin the slow recuperation process at home.

It's a familiar process for Call, who had a liver transplant in December 2003 at LDS Hospital, which for 20 years has been the only liver transplant center in the state.

He needed that liver because of cirrhosis, he said, caused by alcohol now long in his past. At the time of his first transplant, he was desperately ill, "skin and bones" and had a pretty wild roller-coaster ride because of problems with the liver he received, as well as his fragile medical condition then. "It started to fail about three months after the first transplant, but I was still in so much better shape than before," he said. "It was nobody's fault. That's just the way the cookie crumbles, and it bought me time I wouldn't have had."

It is because of the earlier transplant, he said, that he was in better shape this time around. The wonderful thing about a liver transplant, according to Call, is that no matter what, you feel better than you did with the one that was failing. And he started the transplant process healthier than he was for the previous transplant.

Although some of his medications will be slightly different, Call also says he's glad he knows what to expect now because of his previous transplant.

The U. has been working to get certification to perform liver transplants since spring, according to Dr. Sean Mulvihill, chairman of the Department of Surgery at the U.

Livers now join hearts, lungs and kidneys as organs the U. can replace. He said the hospital has several patients now on the waiting list for a liver transplant.

Call said he was on a waiting list to receive a liver for only about six weeks. Who gets an organ depends not only on tissue type and other factors involved in matching donor and recipient, but also on how sick the patient is, with those in most dire shape closest to the top of the list, Mulvihill said.

The program opens amid some controversy about the need for another liver transplant center in Utah. LDS Hospital, which has been doing the transplants for 20 years, maintains that there are not enough local liver transplants to keep two programs busy and doctors will lose the edge and expertise that comes from doing frequent transplants if the number of complex procedures is reduced. They also worry that insurance companies, with whom different transplant programs negotiate, demand they do more liver transplants each year in order for the surgery to be covered.

Meanwhile, Call's not worried about any of that. He chose the U. because he chooses the U. any time it's a choice. His father played football there, Call went to school there, graduating with a degree in fine arts, and he had his pre-op screening there even before his first transplant, he said.

On Friday, he said he was feeling good and very ready to go home. "I swear someone else's feet are in my bed. These are white instead of yellow," Call joked of the jaundice that no longer plagues him.

E-mail: lois@desnews.com