MURRAY — A Utah man was given the gift of life by doctors at Intermountain Medical Center after they performed a life-saving liver transplant on him in the midst of the pandemic.
As the coronavirus started to spread across the state in early March, hospitals canceled nonessential surgeries to make room for patients with COVID-19, but some life-saving operations like organ transplants couldn’t wait.
“Sometimes in life, if you don’t take your chances, they pass you by,” said Brad Peterson, who was diagnosed with a rare form of liver disease a year ago.
At that time, he and his wife Lori, had no idea that his best chance for a life-saving transplant would come in the middle of a pandemic.
Peterson needed to act quickly, and his doctors were eager to help.
Peterson is a banker in Logan. He and Lori, truly cherish spending time on their ranch.
“Being on a good horse, alone,” said Peterson, with a chuckle.
Six weeks ago, in the middle of the night in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, they got the call they had been waiting for.
Transplant team coordinators told them they had to get to the hospital in Murray where a liver was available for Brad.
“What was your first thought?” Peterson asked his wife. “Fear,” she answered.
Fortunately, the doctors on the transplant team did not see it that way.
Brad has a rare blood type that complicates a match, and the typical wait for a liver can be 14 months, or longer. They were not really in a position to wait.
“We were both quite surprised, and in a way happy,” said Peterson. “In a way, thrilled, but at the same time, both surprised and concerned.”
They knew it was risky to be in the hospital during the pandemic, but passing on this liver was risky, too.
“His life expectancy wasn’t long without it, so that definitely played into it. I wanted him to live,” said Lori.
“It was getting down to where it became a life and death situation,” said Peterson.
The next day, he got that transplant.
“We made adjustments so that we would always be able to meet needs,” said Dr. Richard Gilroy, Intermountain’s liver transplant medical director.
Transplant teams made critical safety moves before COVID-19 arrived in Utah.
Dr. Gilroy added there is always uncertainty when it comes to transplantation.
“You never know when you’re going to get an organ offer,” he said. “And then, you never know everything about the organ offer that you get.”
His life expectancy wasn’t long without it, so that definitely played into it. I wanted him to live.
Dr. Gilroy said doctors at the hospital have transplanted five livers in the past month, with no expectation of slowing their pace.
In fact, they expect to transplant 70 livers this year compared to 53 last year, regardless of the pandemic.
“Watching him progress has been nothing short of miraculous,” said Lori, who was not able to be by her husband’s side while he was recovering in the hospital for 10 days due to COVID-19 restrictions at the facility.
When she first saw her husband as he left the hospital, she immediately noticed that the yellow coloring from his liver disease was gone from his face. That let her know he was already getting better.
“So joyful to see that the liver was working,” Lori said. “That going through all of this was worth it. It gave him the opportunity to live.”
They plan to head home to Logan later this week.