San Antonio pulmonologist donates liver to his long-time patient, friend

‘I couldn’t think of a better person,’ Dr. Marc Chalaby says of his donation to Serena Irons

Instead of offering only compassion, Dr. Marc Chalaby got tested at the University Health Transplant Institute to see if he would be compatible to become a living donor.
Instead of offering only compassion, Dr. Marc Chalaby got tested at the University Health Transplant Institute to see if he would be compatible to become a living donor.

SAN ANTONIO – Pulmonologist Dr. Marc Chalaby knows how to hold a secret. And he had a good reason to.

His long-time patient and friend Serena Irons had learned that the hepatitis she had conquered had also destroyed her liver.

Instead of offering only compassion, Chalaby got tested at the University Health Transplant Institute to see if he would be compatible to become a living donor.

“I couldn’t think of a better person,” Chalaby said.

Irons, 68, had donated her time and energy to mission trips to Mexico, and had one time convinced Chalaby to join her. That was when their friendship was solidified, as they worked hand-in-hand offering lifesaving medical care to the villagers.

After being placed on the liver donor list, time was running out for Irons. She was told she needed a liver to survive, and a living donor was becoming the only choice. Irons said she had little hope.

“Why would a person do this for me? This is major surgery,” she said.

Chalaby knew more than anyone the consequences of being a major organ donor, but her plight urged him to go get registered. He learned he was a match, and agreed to donate a portion of his liver, asking that his donation be anonymous.

As the process got closer and closer to the transplant date, Irons wondered who her miracle donor was and eventually found out by accident. A chance meeting with Chalaby in a pre-transplant clinic waiting room forced the truth out.

“All I said is, ‘Are you the one?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ Then we hugged,” she said tearfully.

Chalaby was just as emotional, saying, “I didn’t think she’d accept it, knowing I was her doctor, being a father. So, I didn’t want her to know.”

Receiving a living donation is the quickest way for a patient to get a kidney or liver transplantation. That’s because there are not enough deceased donors to match the number of people on the transplant waiting lists. And every year, transplant waiting lists get longer.

“I call him my Superman, my hero, you know. And now we are connected for life. We are family,” Irons said.

University Health Transplant Institute is the only place in South Texas performing living transplants from living donors.

For more information on how you can donate, click here.

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About the Author:

Ursula Pari has been a staple of television news in Texas at KSAT 12 News for more than 22 years and a veteran of broadcast journalism for more than 30 years.