Chilean man gets a second chance at life in Seoul
Neumann’s journey began with a letter from Dr. Raul Fabian Oleas in March. Dr. Oleas reached out to Dr. Lee Sung-gyu from Asan Medical Center’s department of liver transplantation and hepatobiliary surgery, where he had previously received training on liver transplantation himself.
“We have a patient fighting liver cancer and cirrhosis who needs a two-to-one liver transplantation surgery [requiring parts of two people’s livers],” the letter read. “Since the portal vein is closed and cancer has spread to all parts of the biliary tract, it’s an emergency due to jaundice and ascites. Is the surgery for this patient possible in Korea?”
In September of last year, Neumann visited a hospital due to extreme fatigue and jaundice and was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer and cirrhosis. At the time, his blood vessels were being blocked by blood clots and cancer had already spread to the biliary tract, which refers to the liver, gall bladder and bile ducts, and how they work together to make, store and secrete bile.
While other doctors had told him there was no hope, Oleas suggested a liver transplant. But due to Neumann’s size — he is quite a large man — the doctor explained he would need a two-to-one liver transplant surgery. Oleas reached out to a few hospitals in the United States but received replies saying the surgery was impossible.
Asan Medical Center in Songpa District, southern Seoul, was Oleas and Neumann’s last hope.
The hospital has seen over 6,000 liver transplant surgeries and the success rate of surgeries on patients with stage 4 liver cancer was about 97 percent.
The hospital was the pioneer of the two-to-one liver transplant method and over 500 of such surgeries have been performed there. It oversees about 95 percent of all such operations in the world.
Neumann and his family arrived in Korea at the end of March.
Tests were immediately performed on his wife and his three daughters and his oldest daughter Barbara Christina Neumann Achurra, 34, and youngest daughter Anita Isidora Neumann Achurra, 23, were deemed good donor candidates.
On April 8, doctors made a small incision in Barbara’s abdomen, less than 10 centimeters (4 inches), and removed part of the left lobe of her liver, while the right lobe of Anita’s liver was removed via laparoscopy surgery in order to minimize the risk of complications and scarring.
Neumann’s biliary tract and portal vein were removed and the parts of his two daughters’ livers were transplanted.
The surgery was particularly difficult because of Neumann’s poor health. He had a higher risk of jaundice due to severe liver failure and was suffering from ascites, or an abnormal buildup of fluid in his abdomen, as well as a blood-clotting disorder. He was also showing symptoms of a hepatic coma.
But Dr. Lee, who actually developed the two-to-one liver transplant method, successfully completed the surgery.
It took several months after the surgery for his liver to become fully functional, but he was finally moved to a general patient room in July.
Now, six months later, he is in a stable condition and returned home this week, ready for a second chance at life.
“Muchisimas gracias!” said Neumann, expressing thanks in Spanish. “Asan Medical Center gave me a chance to be reborn. Doctors from the liver transplantation team who helped me regain my daily life are my saviors. My family and I will remember this gratitude forever.”
“I truly feel thankful and sorry at the same time for my two daughters who agreed to transplant parts of their livers and my wife who has been caring for me for a long time,” Neumann said.
“At first, I was not able to trust the results Asan Medical Center posted online,” his youngest daughter Anita said. “However, the fact that Asan Medical Center developed the two-to-one liver transplantation surgery for the first time in history and many doctors around the world train there gave us hope.”
“The patient at first was in a state of emergency with stage 4 liver cancer and cirrhosis,” Dr. Kim Ki-hun from Asan’s department of liver transplant and hepatobiliary surgery said. “However, we, through our experiences, could expect good results.”
BY SHIN SUNG-SIK, CHEA SARAH [firstname.lastname@example.org]