How a $104 million gift will advance treatments for patients with liver disease

Brenton Luper was able to offer a portion of his liver to his mom, Karen, through a living...
Brenton Luper was able to offer a portion of his liver to his mom, Karen, through a living donor transplant procedure.(Source;Karen Luper | Karen Luper)
Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 5:27 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 5, 2022 at 6:05 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A historic $104 million gift made from Dr. Todd Stravitz and his family’s foundation to accelerate research at the Stravitz-Sanyal Institute for Liver Disease and Metabolic Health looks to find alternative treatments and options for patients battling liver disease.

Down the road, health officials say the money can help patients looking for more options outside of a liver transplant, like Karen Luper.

More than two decades ago, Karen Luper started having symptoms

“I started having some issues,” said Karen Luper about the start of her symptoms more than two decades ago. “Tired, exhaustion, and they determined I was having some signs of cirrhosis of the liver.”

After years of managing her symptoms, Karen needed a liver transplant, but time was ticking with her placement on the liver transplant list.

“I was very sick, but I was not that far up on the list,” said Luper.

Karen Luper was offered another option on the table: a living donor transplant.

According to a VCU Health spokesperson, VCU Health has performed liver transplants since 1964.

The Living Liver Donor Transplant Program at VCU Health’s Hume-Lee Transplant Center has been continuously in place since 2019 and has resulted in more than 40 living liver transplants at VCU Health.

In Karen’s case, her son, Brenton, didn’t hesitate to offer his help and donate part of his liver to help his mom survive.

“What was going through my head is, ‘Great, we actually have a shot to get her a liver and to have her live a long life,’” said Brenton.

One obstacle stood in the way of the transplant procedure. Karen and her son’s blood types didn’t match.

However, Karen said doctors found a way to continue with the rare blood-type incompatible liver transplant.

“VCU had some new doctors that had helped start the living donor transplant, and they had come from countries that had done non-matching liver blood type liver transplants, and they said, ‘Hey, we can do this,’” said Karen Luper.

Two years ago, doctors were able to take a portion of Brenton’s liver and offer it to his mom to save her life.

“Liver disease is a sneaky problem,” said Dr. Todd Stravitz, also Karen’s longtime specialist.

The vision for Dr. Stravitz is a future with more options outside of waiting on the transplant list.

“These patients are actually in the process of dying unless they get liver transplantation,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are more recipients than they are donors.”

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, 17 people die every day waiting on the transplant waiting list.

Dr. Stravitz’s recent $104 million gift looks to find other options for patients like Karen.

“We need to prevent, find effective treatments, early detection strategies, and cure the disease in the majority of people, if not everyone,” said Dr. Arun Sanyal.

This research could help future patients who resemble cases similar to Karen and help them enjoy more days with their loved ones.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is just glowing,” said Luper.

Doctors at VCU say the money will help create liver disease-related drugs and therapies while also doubling the capacity of their care.

Copyright 2022 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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