It's been two years for Pearl Lambert. Two years hoping to get ahead on the waiting list for a liver transplant. Pearl's doctor had informed her she couldn't go on living much longer with her own.
In 2000, Pearl was diagnosed by a liver specialist, Dr. Vinod Rustti, with a rare liver disease called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) that causes blockages in the bile ducts and as a result, toxicity in the body. She felt tired and dizzy sometimes.
"I vomited often and started to be very, very tired", says Pearl, adding that she was still working as a custodian for Fairfax County schools in those days. Her daughter Vicki remembers how Pearl's health worsened gradually. "She went from a size 12 to a size 3", she recalls.
Vicki, a witty special education teacher, started looking for more answers to her mother's condition. And she found them. There was an alternative to the liver transplant waiting list. She could donate part of her own liver to Pearl. But it was not easy, "they needed to find out if we were a match. You need to be a match for blood type and also for tissue", said Vicki. They were.
So, in December 2002, Dr. Lynt Johnson and Dr. Amy Lu performed the procedure at Georgetown University Hospital. Vicki was operated on first. Through an incision in her abdomen, doctors extracted a little more than half (60%) of her liver. In another room, her mom, Pearl was being prepared to receive the organ. Vicki explains, "The whole process, including both operations –hers and Pearl's- took about 13 hours." It was amazing to her that after donating more than half of her liver, the organ regenerated completely, as occurs normally in these cases, allowing her to gradually go back to her regular 33-year-old life. "I didn't need to make any type of changes to my diet or lifestyle. I exercised before I donated part of my liver and I still do", she asserts.
Pearl's recovery was positive too. Her new liver also was growing to normal size. She will need to stay on immunosuppressant medications, necessary to prevent the body from rejecting the foreign organ, and some other medications to control her blood pressure and her digestive functions. But, she is happy: "I can drive, I lead a normal life and I volunteer now," adds Pearl, explaining she retired under disability after surgery and devoted her free time "to educate people on transplants."