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Southern Indiana Man Celebrates One Year Liver Transplant

IU Health University Hospital

Southern Indiana Man Celebrates One Year Liver Transplant

He needed a new liver. His niece became his living donor.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

It’s been a long journey for Joseph “O.J.” Johnson to reach this point. He is celebrating one year since his liver transplant at IU Health University Hospital.

A resident of Bloomfield, Ind. Johnson didn’t know it at the time but his liver donor would be someone who resides just a few minutes from him. She attends his church in the same community where Johnson grew up. That donor was Toni Cahill, married to Johnson’s nephew, Brian.

She has a giving heart and when she learned of Johnson’s need for a new liver, she wanted to be his donor.

Joseph “O.J.” Johnson and niece

Four years ago, Johnson was diagnosed with Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). More than 3 million cases are diagnosed a year of the disease that causes fatigue, pain, and over time, liver damage.

When the family began considering transplant, they learned that Johnson was in what they call a “catch-22” situation. He had heart complications. He needed a new liver but a transplant was complicated because his heart was compromised.

That’s when they learned about IU Health’s living liver donor program.

Living liver transplantation involves replacing the diseased liver with a healthy, donated liver from another person. For living liver donation, a portion of the liver is removed based on the size of the recipient. At least 30% of the donor’s liver remains; the part of the liver left behind is expected to grow back to normal size within a few weeks.

With the option for Johnson to receive a living donor, his wait time was significantly reduced. He also knew a healthy living organ would function longer and better than one from a deceased donor.

In the care of IU Health’s Dr. Chandrashekhar Kubal, Johnson received his living liver transplant on May 24, 2021.

“Toni is selfless. She believes in helping others. This was just one more act of her faith,” said Johnson’s wife, Sharon. “If you stop and think about how big our family is, this has impacted not one but many lives.”

The Johnsons are the parents to a son and a daughter, and grandparents to six. When the family recently gathered to mark the occasion of his one-year anniversary, Johnson and Cahill proudly showed their scars.

transplant recipient Joseph Johnson and family

All family members celebrated by wearing “Donate Life” t-shirts and a transplant anniversary meal was planned with Cahill and her husband.

“He is doing much better now,” said Johnson’s wife. “He is glad for the warm weather to come, as he enjoys being out working in yard and mowing. He is also enjoying going to the grandkids' softball and baseball games.”

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