Son gives the gift of life by donating half his liver to his mother days before Christmas

Posted at 5:31 PM, Dec 27, 2016

For years 19-year-old Colin Hambrook saw his mom, Lisa Shanahan, struggling with a liver disease and wasn't able to do anything about it.

That was until he learned about the living donor program. This Christmas, Hambrook gave his mom half of his liver and the gift of a lifetime.

Last Wednesday, the shopping frenzy was in full force but at the University of Maryland Medical Center, Hambrook and Shanahan were prepping for surgery.

“He said, ‘Mom, I'm going to be your Christmas present,’ and I just broke down,” Shanahan said.

Since the 90s, Shanahan had been suffering from a disease that left her fatigued and itchy.

“We would go on trips to the ocean and we'd go out for a little stroll on the boardwalk and I'd have to go back and rest and I felt like I was a lazy mom,” Shanahan said.

She called it the “mommy disease” thinking it was just exhaustion from caring for her three kids and having a full-time job. Then in 2007, she was diagnosed with primary biliary cholangitis, or PBC, an autoimmune disease that damages the liver.

“For all those years, my liver was failing and no one diagnosed me properly,” Shanahan said.

She was placed on the donor's list but her chances of getting a transplant were slim. Shanahan is very petite, so her donor would have had to come from a deceased child or small woman with the same blood type.

“She had a significant disease that was getting worse, her score was not putting her near the top of the list and so while getting progressively more ill, her only option was to broach the subject of living donation,” said Dr. Rolf Barth, the director of liver transplantation for the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

As it turned out, Shanahan’s 19-year-old son was a match. She didn’t want him to risk his health by undergoing surgery, but Hambrook insisted.

Last Wednesday, Dr, Barth, along with two surgical teams, two anesthesia teams, and two nursing teams, worked in operating rooms side-by-side to perfectly coordinate the liver transplant.

“We try to exactly time it like a train station. The arrival of one train with half a liver, and the departure on the other train, which was his mom starting her operation,” Dr. Barth said.

Doctors were able to remove Shanahan’s diseased liver and replace it with 60 percent of Hambrook's liver.

“When I graduate college, she'll be there. When I eventually have a family, she'll be there. And just knowing that is such a relief, I can't even explain it and no amount of money would ever beat that I just can't even believe it,” said Hambrook.

And had it not been for his selfless donation this could've been Shanahan’s last Christmas.

“He's a teenager, those are the hard years but he put all that aside and put me first. That's saying a lot that's the best gift I could get for a lifetime, it is a lifetime,” said Shanahan.

So far, Dr. Barth said the transplant was a success. Shanahan and Hambrook could be discharged from the hospital by the end of the week, and in just a few months both of their livers will fully regenerate.

Hambrook and Shanahan also wanted to share their story to bring more attention to the need for living donors, and that there could be other happy stories if more people knew about the life-saving procedure.

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