KSAT’s Marilyn Moritz reunites with recipient, donor of first living-donor liver transplant

Alyssa Smith Riggin received the first living-donor liver transplant in the US in 1989

Alyssa Smith Riggin, Teri Smith and Marilyn Moritz reunite 34 years after Alyssa underwent the first living-donor liver transplant in the United States. (KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – I first met Alyssa Smith Riggin when she was just a toddler. Now, I’m buying chocolate chip cookies for her daughter’s school fundraiser. And, it’s a miracle.

Thirty-four years ago this week, Alyssa and her mother, Teri Smith, were about to make medical history. Just before Thanksgiving, they graciously invited me, a photographer and a big camera into their family’s home in Schertz. I asked 21-month-old Alyssa if she was having turkey.

“And punkie pie, too!” she said, oblivious to the headlines and hospital stay ahead.

Alyssa had been diagnosed with biliary atresia, a rare liver disease that afflicts babies. She needed a liver transplant. So, with unquantifiable faith and zero hesitation, Teri agreed to what may have seemed, to some, a most surreal idea. She could donate a portion of her liver to her daughter to save her life.

It was a Monday. On November 27, 1989, doctors at the University of Chicago Medical Center performed the first living-donor liver transplant in the United States.

The surgery took 12 hours. The impact has spanned decades.

Since then, thousands upon thousands of people have been given new life because they no longer had to wait for their names to move up on a list—a list that, right now, has 10,084 names on it.

Also, since then, Alyssa has grown up. She did typical kid things. She danced, played with her brother, made friends, and graduated from high school and college. She married and has since moved to the Midwest. Now, she has three beautiful children of her own.

In my 43 years of telling people’s stories, this one has stuck with me. I think it’s their down-to-earth kindness. We’ve kept up over the years. So, this Thanksgiving, when Teri and Alyssa were offering homemade chocolate chip cookies to raise funds for Alyssa’s daughter’s school, I had zero hesitation.

Their life now is far removed from headlines and hospitals. In fact, for Alyssa and her family, life is just, well — normal.

And, that’s the miracle.


About the Author:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.