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Aunt and niece connected by family and a single organ

IU Health University Hospital

Aunt and niece connected by family and a single organ

They aren’t related by blood but they were a great match for a gift of life.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes,

In fourth grade, LoriAnne Boone was assigned a leaf project. It was her Aunt Peggy Burress who helped her identify the trees. “Aunt Peggy” knew every single tree, Boone remembers.

Fast forward to when Boone got married, her Aunt’s love of nature was showcased in Boone’s wedding flowers. The aunt and niece have always had a special bond. Now it’s even stronger as they are an organ donor and recipient.

Two years ago, Burress was diagnosed with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AAT). The condition prevents the body from producing ample amounts of AAT, a protein that protects the lungs and liver from damage.

When Boone learned of her aunt’s condition, she cried.

“I remember I was in my parent’s kitchen when I learned she needed a transplant. I’m a medical wimp. I give blood because I’m 0 positive and I know it’s needed but I dread it. I look forward to the snack at the end,” said Boone, 41. But when her Aunt needed a new liver, Boone didn’t hesitate. “I said, ‘I’ll do it.’”

In July 2020 IU Health restarted the living liver transplantation program. Since then, the transplant team has performed more than 20 living donor transplants.

Liver transplantation involves replacing the diseased liver with a healthy, donated liver from another person. The liver that is transplanted can come from a person who has died (a deceased donor), or it can come from a person who wishes to donate while alive (a living donor).

In general, living donors must be healthy, in good physical and mental health, and between 18-55 years of age. They undergo a complete medical and psychosocial evaluation supported by an IU Health transplant team including a living donor advocate, hepatologist, surgeon, psychologist or psychiatrist, social worker, and registered dietitian.

Liver donors may be a blood relative or may be non-related donors.

After saying the words: “I’ll do it,” Boone underwent testing at IU Health and learned she was a good match, based on her overall health and size of her liver.

Her relationship to Burress is through her father. Burress’ husband and Boone’s father are brothers. There was little chance of Boone being a carrier of the disease that took the life of Burress’ brother.

On May 3, 2022, the aunt and niece were in the care of Dr. Chandrashekhar Kubal and Dr. Marco Lacerda when Burress received her transplant.

“The whole team was great. I’d say my worst days were getting infusions twice a day for a lung infection. Those were dark days. I couldn’t get a liver transplant until they cleared my lungs,” said Burress, who was undergoing paracentesis weekly to drain fluids that caused bloating.

“I worried about LoriAnn because I didn’t want her to go through the pain and have a big scar,” said Burress.

But Boone, who is typically nervous about medical matters, only thought about the Aunt she loved.

“We lived just 10-15 minutes away from each other and growing up she was the Aunt I stayed with when my younger brother was born. I’d go to lunch with her and my Uncle Jim and my dad,” said Boone. “I can remember sitting around my grandparents tiny dining room table and we’d have loud and boisterous conversations. We were all together and we were close,” said Boone, who has been married to her husband, Jon, for 18 years, and is the mother of three children. Burress has been married to her husband John, for 51 years and has two sons and one grandson.

“I wanted to keep those memories alive,” said Boone. “And I wanted to make more for years to come.”

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