Regina nurse with rare genetic disease gets second liver transplant

·2 min read
Krystal Graham just days before her second liver transplant. (Submitted by Melissa Fiacco - image credit)
Krystal Graham just days before her second liver transplant. (Submitted by Melissa Fiacco - image credit)

Regina nurse Krystal Graham is recovering in Edmonton after receiving a liver transplant.

An organ donation was found at the end of December for Graham, 37, who went public with her story and the need for more organ donors in early September.

It's the second time she's been through the procedure. Graham, who has primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a rare liver disease that attacks the bile ducts of the liver, had her first transplant when she was 24.

According to Melissa Fiacco, a close family friend, Graham flew to Edmonton Thursday night and received her liver transplant at the University of Alberta Hospital on Friday morning.

Graham had a second surgery to complete the transplant on Sunday, and is recovering in an Edmonton ICU, according to Fiacco.

Graham is an advocate for organ donation and spoke with CBC this past fall, when Saskatchewan suspended its organ transplant program to cope with a surge in COVID-19 patients.

At the time, Graham was desperate for a second liver transplant.

When she was nine years old, Graham was diagnosed with PSC. Poor health followed.

At 15, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Graham had no energy, or appetite and spent much of her life bedridden.

Transplant list

By the time she was 23, Graham was placed on the transplant list for a new liver.

Graham received a liver transplant when she was 24 and lived a relatively normal life for several years, even obtaining her Licensed Practical Nursing diploma.

In 2015, a liver biopsy confirmed her PSC had returned. Medication allowed her to live and work for several years.

Submitted by Melissa Fiacco
Submitted by Melissa Fiacco

But by the spring of 2020, with the pandemic in full force, doctors pulled Graham from her nursing duties on the cardiac and neuro wards.

Graham was coping with debilitating symptoms of her disease, including incurable itching of her hands and feet, nausea, stomach pain and internal bleeding from abnormally dilated veins.

Plasmapheresis treatments, similar to dialysis, alleviated some of her symptoms, but by the fall of 2021 Graham was bedridden and back on the transplant list, just as organ donation was suspended in Saskatchewan.

Challenges

She was told that if she didn't receive a liver transplant within three months, her chances of surviving would fall to 50 per cent.

A rare B-blood type and the need for a smaller liver made Graham's chances of finding a successful donor more difficult. And because this is Graham's second transplant, there are different risks involved.

"I know that things can happen, but I can't dwell on it," Graham said in September. "I'd rather stay in the mentality that things will be OK, and I'll get through this again."

Graham's mother and sister are with her in Edmonton as she recovers, Fiacco said.

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