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Schertz mother, daughter made transplant history 24 years ago

Teri Smith became first living donor for daughter Alyssa's liver transplant

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Some 24 years after making medical history, Alyssa Smith and her mother, Teri, lead remarkably normal lives.

"It is a big deal, but not to me," said 25-year old Alyssa, visiting her parents for the holidays.

In November 1989, the mother and daughter became the first pair to undergo living donor liver transplant surgeries in the U.S.

Then 21-month-old Alyssa faced a life-threatening liver disorder and needed a transplant. Typically, that would involve being placed on a list and waiting for a suitable cadaver organ.

"The (doctors) came to us and said they were looking at a new procedure," Teri recalled.

That new procedure was a living donor transplant. Teri would have the opportunity to save her daughter's life.

"As a logical person, it just made sense to me," Teri said. "There was no, 'Hhmm, this is questionable,' It was, 'Why wouldn't you do it?'"

So on the Monday after Thanksgiving at the University of Chicago Medical Center, surgeons removed part of Teri's liver and replaced her daughter's diseased organ. Teri's liver would regenerate while Alyssa's would grow with her.

While some of the memories have faded with time, others are vivid.

"When Barbara Bush called, we were out walking on the street, and they were hollering, 'The President's wife is on the phone! The President's wife is on the phone!'"

While  Alyssa has no memory of the event, she is fully aware of the significance.

"One time in college a girl came over to me reading her science text, and she's like, 'That's  you!' and I was like, 'That's me!'"

Their transplant has been nothing short of success. 

Alyssa has been off all related medications for 11 years.  She now lives in  Raleigh, N.C., where she has just finished her student teaching. And she's engaged to be married to her sweetheart, Ben, next month.

Teri is also the picture of health and has taken to running. Her first 5K was for Donate Life.

"We were lucky to be with the right physicians at the right time," Teri said. "God had that planned and ordained for us."

Since the Smiths' transplant, thousands more have followed at medical centers across the world.

Last year, there were 246 living donor liver transplants in the U.S., according to numbers from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.  

While a large number, it pales in comparison to the 16,000 people on the liver wait list.

For more information on organ transplants and to register to be a donor: www.donatelife.net and www.unos.org

For a list of recent stories Marilyn Moritz has done, click here.

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