CINCINNATI, Ohio — For 10 years, Kelli Estep was sick.

What You Need To Know

  • The Esteps were the first in 20 years to get a living donor transplant at UC Health

  • 65 percent of James Estep's liver was given to his wife Kelli

  • Doctors say both parts of the liver will eventually grow back as the couple heals

“I had fluid in my belly, fluid on my legs, my legs would drain fluid out," said Estep.

Her liver was failing and she needed a new one to survive, but there was another problem.

“They said I wasn’t sick enough to get a cadaver liver at the time,” said Estep.

Her name was put on a liver transplant list, and for that entire decade, she’d be waiting and not knowing if she’d ever get one until her husband, James, got an idea.

“As soon as I found out about the living donor, I told her I should be tested to see if I could be a candidate,” said James.

He volunteered to give up more than half of his liver to his wife.

“I can’t even tell any of it’s missing,” said James.

It’s a surgery the West Virginia couple had to travel to Cincinnati to get.

“We were both going under the knife, and we have three kids at home, and I was scared something was gonna happened to us,” said Kelli Estep.

Surgeons said there was a chance it could go wrong.

“You can actually die from donating because liver surgery is so complicated and so difficult to do, to cut someone’s liver in half is not an easy task,” said Dr. Shimul Shah, surgeon and chief of Solid Organ Transplantation UC Health.

Shah was a part of a team of surgeons who would do just that for the first time in 20 years at UC Health — a living donor transplant.  

“When the liver gets removed from the donor room, we carry it over to the recipient room, sometimes we have to do some reconstructions and things like that in the bucket, and then it goes in and then we plant it into the recipient, so it’s very much a planned day but it takes all day,” said Shah.

It's a whole day of surgery that ended a ten year wait, and bought another lifetime for Kelli Estep.

She’s now living with most of her husband’s liver, while he still has part of his.

But doctors say both liver parts will grow back as the couple heals.

“I’m glad of that. She’s back to the way she used to be like ten years ago,” said James Estep.