A Special Mother's Day Gift

    In life-saving transplant, son donates part of liver to mother

    NEW ORLEANS – Tina Gilbert received a special gift from her first-born son, Chad, a few days before Mother’s Day. It was one that saved her life.

    Chad donated 60 percent of his liver to his mother in a transplant procedure May 8 at Ochsner Multi-Organ Transplant Institute in New Orleans. At press time, both mother and son were listed in good condition.

    “Everything went perfectly with the surgery,” said Cole Gilbert, Chad’s wife, about the two-person liver transplant operation.

    The day after the surgery Chad, pastor of Edgewater Baptist Church in New Orleans, was already sitting up in a chair.

    “The doctors said they are both doing well,” Cole Gilbert added. “All this has been an answer to prayer.”

    Chad Gilbert’s mother Tina Gilbert had been on the national waiting list for a liver transplant for more than a year and a half. Tina’s husband, Boone Gilbert, said his wife was diagnosed with a liver disease called chronic autoimmune hepatitis.

    “It’s a disease she was born with,” Boone said. “A gene mutates and turns on the body and makes it the enemy. The liver tries to heal itself and regenerates. It’s a constant battle and the disease takes over the liver. Tina’s energy level gradually went down and she started swelling and retaining fluids.”

    Tina could not stand anymore or get dressed in the morning, he said. As a result of her increasing exhaustion level, she was admitted to Ochsner’s for more medical tests.

    “We received devastating news in January of 2012,” continued Boone, chairman of the deacons at First Baptist Church in Lafayette. “Specialists told us Tina needed a new liver. We were not prepared for that.”

    To undergo a liver transplant, a patient is placed on the national waiting list, which is managed by the United Network for Organ Sharing. The nation’s organ transplant network has developed a scoring system known as the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease, or MELD, in which the sickest patients are given priority for organ allocation. Every transplant center in the nation must follow the MELD scoring system.

    In March, Tina had to be hospitalized at Ochsner’s in New Orleans because she became gravely ill again.

    “Her MELD score was increasing again,” Boone explained. “A social worker with the living donor program came into her hospital room and told us for the first time that Ochsner’s performs live-donor liver transplants.”

    Their son, Chad, and their youngest son, Blake, were both by their mother’s bedside. When he heard about Ochsner’s living liver donor transplant program, Chad said he felt God leading him and asked the coordinator for an information pamphlet.

    “I immediately felt the Lord usher peace into my heart instantaneously, and I knew I was suppose to pursue it,” said Chad, 32, about beginning the process to become a live-donor of part of his liver.

    Candidates for live-donor liver transplantation must be in excellent physical and emotional health. Matching criteria include organ size and compatible blood type. Boone and Tina, who have been married 35 years, have three grown children. All of them volunteered to be their mother’s donor. After a family discussion, it was decided that Blake, who is 24 years old, would attempt to be the donor.

    But Blake was not a “good match” for the transplant surgery, his father said.

    “He has a smaller frame than Chad and his liver size was too small for the delicate surgery. So Chad was evaluated, and he was a good match and a good candidate because his liver is more developed. But I was concerned. He has a young family and it is a big risk and a major surgery,” Boone said.

    Days before her surgery at home in Lafayette, Tina recalled the day Chad called her to say he was a good candidate to be her live-donor.

    “He said, ‘Happy Mother’s Day.’ I laughed and cried at the same time. It was a very touching moment,” Tina said tearfully.

    God has worked in every one of their children’s lives, Tina said, and added she was thankful that all three of her children were willing to be a live-donor for her.

    “It continues to blow me away every single day. I’m so thankful to God. I am so thankful to God he’s working in all my children’s hearts. I’ve told Chad thank you a million times. This is an answer to prayer,” she added.

    The entire family prepared for the transplant surgery both mentally and spiritually, Chad said.

    “All along, I did not have a peace about Blake being the donor,” the Edgewater pastor and firstborn Gilbert son said. “I prayed that God would close the door if it was supposed to be me. We got to see God’s providence when He closed that door, when we found out Blake’s liver was too small.”

    The entire family knew the risks involved with the complicated surgery to both Tina and Chad before the surgery, but put their faith in God.

    “In surgery there are no guarantees that all will turn out the way you want,” Chad said the day before the surgery. “But no matter the outcome, God will still be good and He has our trust. He is in control, whatever the outcome. There is a one in 10 chance my mom could die from the surgery, and there is a 30 percent chance of me having complications during the surgery. But we have absolute peace, no matter what,”

    Family members and friends are praising God for the success of the transplant surgery, Cole said. Doctors have told the family that the liver (in both patients) begins to regenerate almost immediately after the transplant, and that after two months, the liver will be almost completely regenerated.

    “God reveals His purposes for our lives,” Cole said. “I think that is what we all keep coming back to, even with Mrs. Tina’s sickness and this surgery. We do believe that God is sovereign; His purposes are for our good and for His glory. And He is writing a better story for us than we could ever write for ourselves.”