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Transplant patient from the Middle East: ‘Here the doctors are confident, courageous’

Transplant patient from the Middle East: ‘Here the doctors are confident, courageous’

He traveled more than 7,000 miles, about 20 hours by plane, and spent 10 months in Indiana. Now Khalid Alfalasi is headed home with a new liver and renewed health.

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

The journey to Indianapolis started one year ago. Kahlid Alfalasi had a chance meeting with IU Health Dr. Mohammad Al-Haddad who was attending a conference in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.

By the time they met, Alfalasi had already suffered through months of disappointment, months of failing health. Dr. Al-Haddad, a gastroenterologist serves as medical director for IU Health’s Destination Services. The director of Destination Services, Meredith Formsma, and Chief Medical Officer at Riley Children's Health, Dr. Elaine Cox, accompanied Dr. Al-Haddad to the conference.

That meeting of three IU Health team members with a very sick man in a far off land led to a story that has been described as something made for a movie.

“Things are different overseas. No one has this type of organ donor program. Our relatives hadn’t even heard about transplant. This is like something made for T.V.,” said Alfalasi’s wife, Anastasiia “Anna” Morozova.

Never before had Alfalasi and his wife traveled to the United States. But by the time his case was reviewed by the IU Health team in Dubai, he had already traveled to Germany and Thailand. He had been in consultation with hospitals in China. He had been hospitalized and in a coma more than once.

A police officer and father of four boys ages 3, 10, 7, and 5, Alfalasi was searching for answers to health issues that started in November 2018. In his home, Nad Al Sheba, located in Dubai, Alfalasi lives about 15 minutes from the beach. At one point in his career he worked hauling in fresh fish. It was after a dinner of lobster that his wife noticed his feet were swelling.

“I thought he was having an allergic reaction so I told him to stop eating shell fish,” said Morozova. Within days, Alfalasi, 36, began experiencing severe stomach pain. Years earlier he had a gastric bypass to treat an ulcer. When his brother convinced him to go to the hospital, tests showed that he had internal bleeding and a possible infection stemming from the bypass surgery.

Eventually, he was diagnosed with decompensated cirrhosis due to a very rare disorder called, Wilson’s disease. An inherited condition, Wilson's disease causes copper to build up in the organs. Symptoms include abdominal swelling and pain, and general fatigue. It can also cause the legs to swell and the skin to itch, and turn a yellow tone.

Alfalasi needed a liver transplant. He researched his options and appealed to government officials to travel to China. In the end, the best chance he had was to find a living donor – a relative with a compatible blood type. A nephew was tested but was not a match.

When he met IU Health’s Dr. Mohammad Al-Haddad the opportunity to come to the United States in the care of IU Health’s transplant team, was what Alfalasi described as a dream. He arrived in March 2020 and was evaluated for transplant. As part of the evaluation, a MELD score showed that Alfalasi was not in urgent need of transplantation. A MELD score is used to measure the severity of a patient’s liver disease.

His wait continued. And as he waited his health continued to fluctuate. And as he waited, a pandemic brought surgeries to a temporary standstill. IU Health Destination Services Clinical Coordinator, Hamzah Radwan, helped Alfalasi and his wife navigate their stay in the U.S. as they waited. They lived in n a downtown apartment, not far from the hospital. In late August Alfalasi was hospitalized with an abdominal infection and by September 17, he was added to the transplant list. Within 13 days, the call he had been waiting for came to his apartment.

“I answered the phone and I started crying,” said Morozova. “He didn’t believe me.”

Alfalasi said he had waited so long and hoped for so long that he took his time preparing for this life-saving gift. He showered, he dabbed on cologne, and he put on a new pair of yellow and blue sneakers.

“I was quiet. I was so quiet. In my mind I was part in disbelief and I was part dressing for the celebration,” said Alfalasi. At IU Health he was in the care of Dr. Al-Haddad, Dr. Kavish Patidar, and Dr. Marco Lacerda. On the night of September 30th and into the day of October 1st, IU Health Transplant Surgeon Dr. Chandrashekhar Kubal gave Alfalasi a new liver.

As he prepares to return home after four months of recovery Alfalasi struggles with the words to express his gratitude.

First he jokes: “I will be wearing IU Health brand clothes the rest of my life.” Then he somberly responds to a question about his donor. “I want to write to the family and tell them how grateful I am and to tell them that his liver lives on.” Before he leaves the United States, Alfalasi makes other plans too. He wants to visit his doctors and thank them in person.

“From the first time I met Dr. Al-Haddad, I knew the doctors here are confident and courageous,” said Alfalasi. His wife adds, “When I couldn’t stay with him in the hospital all night I didn’t have a worry. I knew the nurses took such good care of him.”

Even when he returns to the United Arab Emirates, thousands of miles away from Indiana, Alfalasi leaves with the confidence that he will always be a transplant patient with IU Health.

“They will continue to stay in touch with me and monitor my health,” said Alfalasi. “This is just one way they show their experience. They are brave, willing to take risks, and now I am going home with a new liver.”