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One year later: She made history as a non-directed living liver donor

IU Health University Hospital

One year later: She made history as a non-directed living liver donor

Carrie Rhodes said she felt called to donate part of her liver to a stranger. Now her recipient is like family and she is happy to see him alive and well one year later.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

When asked how it feels to be the first non-directed living liver donor at IU Health in 20 years Carrie Rhodes begins talking about her recipient.

One year ago, on Aug. 3, 2020, Rhodes, 36, became part of IU Health history. She was the first non-directed living liver donor. Since then, 10 living donor transplantations have been performed at IU Health.

According to Donate Life, there are 14,000 people in the United States waiting for a new liver. Living donors reduce or eliminate the need for patients to spend years waiting for a deceased donor liver transplant. By donating a portion of their liver, living donors also help increase the number of livers available for those still on the wait list. Many donors are giving to someone they know. Rhodes, of Indianapolis, had no idea who would receive her liver. She just knew it was something she needed to do.

Now, she not only has a familiar name and face in her life, in some ways, she also has affirmation.

Matthew Prather, 29, received Rhodes’ liver. For more than a decade, Prather lived with an autoimmune liver disease. Rhodes’ husband, Steven Rhodes, was also diagnosed in high school, with the same liver disease.

A lot of people ask Rhodes why she donated her liver. There are lots of prongs to her answer. Her dad had medical issues and died Aug. 11, 2018. She wishes she could have done something to save him. Then there’s her husband’s diagnosis.

“Just months after transplant surgery, my husband had tests and imaging and things that showed up before no longer showed up. It’s miraculous. We give God all the glory,” said Rhodes. She takes a breath and fights tears as she continues answering why she did what she did. “I just thank God that I felt Jesus’ calling. It’s his story. I’m just part of it.”

Through a chance meeting in the hospital waiting room, Rhodes connected with Prather. In the past year, they have continued to keep in touch. Prather lives in St. Louis so they exchanged texts on their anniversary date. They reconnected at Christmas and Prather and his fiancé invited Steven and Carrie to their wedding. Rhodes and her husband recently moved to the Eagle Creek area and invited Prather and his fiancé to their housewarming.

“We call each other ‘liver sister’ and ‘liver brother,’ said Carrie. “I’m just so glad to know he’s doing so well. He’s keeping busy with his work and travels, and is back to normal activities – playing soccer and basketball.”

An organ from a living donor typically lasts longer because the donor is healthy. It also functions better because the organ is transplanted into the recipient shortly after being removed from the donor. Because of this, patients receiving an organ from a living donor often have better outcomes than patients receiving an organ from a deceased donor.

Like Rhodes and Prather, the living donor does not have to be related to the recipient. Compatibility is based on blood type (ABO). If the blood types do not match, there may still be options for living donation. Age and size are also taken into consideration.

Living liver donation involves removing a portion of a donor’s liver and then using it to replace a diseased liver in the recipient. While a living liver donor faces the typical risks of surgery, the liver regenerates and returns to full function within a month. Donors are admitted to the hospital early the morning of surgery. The surgery lasts from six to eight hours.

After the donation surgery, liver donors are monitored in the IU Health Transplant Intensive Care Unit for one to two days and then moved to the Organ Transplant Unit. The care team works closely with the donor to manage and minimize post-operative pain. Donors will remain in the hospital as long as necessary but are usually discharged within one week after surgery.

“The biggest reason I did this is because Jesus has blessed me and I wanted to give back,” said Rhodes. She credits her parents, Rick and Delana Clements, with raising her to recognize the needs of others. “They did a wonderful job displaying what it means to sacrifice, and serve with integrity,” said Rhodes.

At a young age she saw her parents giving to and helping others – whether it was planning a funeral dinner or teaching Sunday school. In her own life Rhodes has lived out those examples. She’s joined mission trips and provided meals to the sick.

“I’m a work in progress, but I learned through liver donation to try to be available to others – to recognize and respond to things around me,” said Rhodes. “It was one of those unique and special times you choose to bless someone and you get equally blessed in return.”

Previous stories:

First Altruistic Living Liver Transplant at IU Health - After 10 years with an autoimmune liver disease, Matthew Prather was told it was time for a liver transplant. Carrie Rhodes was on her own life changing journey; she felt called to become a living liver donor. Together, they became part of the first altruistic living liver transplant in IU Health history.

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