Second liver donation gives Ottawa man hope for new life

After his body rejected a liver transplant earlier this month, a second one earlier this week allowed an Ottawa man to do something his family wasn't sure he'd be able to do; he squeezed the hand of his 10-year-old daughter on Christmas Day.

Luis Acero, 47, was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma, a form of liver cancer, a year ago. His family was told the tumour was too big to operate and he needed a whole new liver. After waiting months on the National Organ Waitlist, Acero received the call his family was hoping for earlier this month.

His doctors at Toronto General Hospital — where he had been referred from the Ottawa Hospital — had a potential donor for him.

On Dec. 14, Acero underwent a full liver transplant.

"The first transplant was going great and he was up, he was walking around, he was sitting. He was extremely excited about his new organ,"said Andres Acero, Luis' son. He was doing well enough he was transferred out of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Second transplant

Just as suddenly everything changed.

"A couple days after, he just fell off a cliff," he said.

Luis's body had rejected the liver and he was raced back to the ICU.

"The doctors were very frank with our family, as they always are, and did say that my dad was actively dying and he needed a second transplant," Andres said. "That was really the only option existing and time was of the essence."

Supplied by Andres Acero
Supplied by Andres Acero

"It's sobering to think that you're hoping someone dies so your father can stay alive like that," he said. "That is not a good position to be in."

Another organ became available days later and he underwent surgery on Dec. 23.

While doctors typically only offer transplants of organs that match a patient's blood group, Andres said the situation was dire, so doctors had to consider going with a liver that wasn't a perfect match.

The next four to six weeks will be critical in telling whether Luis's body accepts the new liver.

"The doctor said that the probability of success was 20 per cent," he said.

"We took that risk."

Supplied by Andres Acero
Supplied by Andres Acero

Andres said without the hard work of the transplant teams and people who sign up to be organ donors, he wouldn't be celebrating Christmas with his father.

He's especially grateful the surgery has bought his father time and another Christmas with his family, including Luis's 10-year-old daughter, Sofia.

"[She] said 'It's Christmas, dad' and my dad could hear her, so he squeezed her hand."

Sofia smiled.

"We will never as a family forget that smile.... It's something we will forever be grateful for."