Staying Healthy After Liver Transplant

Beverly FarranOn Super Bowl Sunday, 2013, Beverly Farran, a teacher who runs an afterschool program, had a dreadful cold. When her symptoms worsened, she went to a hospital for a chest x-ray. Because Beverly’s stomach hurt, the hospital took another picture and found a tumor on her liver. “I lost confidence in my local doctors,” Beverly says. “I wondered, How could they miss something this serious?”

Her next step was Columbia’s Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation, where she received a diagnosis of liver cancer―and learned that this is a silent illness, one that often goes unnoticed in patients like herself who have no prior history of liver disease.

“Once I got here, I knew I was in good hands. The whole transplant team was amazing,” she says. “Everybody I spoke to was incredibly loving and supportive. The doctors gave me copies of all my test results and explained things fully, knowing I had trust issues with my previous health care providers. They bolstered my faith and prepared me well for the major surgery ahead.”

For the next eight weeks, Beverly attended patient education programs on diet and nutrition, learned how to prepare for a transplant, how to track her medication and how to care for herself at home. Then, on Thanksgiving Day, she received a donor liver. Dr. Tomoaki Kato, surgical director of Liver and Gastrointestinal Transplantation, performed the operation.

“The surgery was flawless and my recovery time was fast,” Beverly recalls. “I left the hospital five days later, determined go right back to work. But Dr. Julia Wattacheril got me to relax, and urged me to wait until I was feeling closer to 100 percent. In four weeks, I was back with my kids, doing what I love most.”

After a liver transplant, weight gain and metabolic changes are a big problem, putting liver recipients at risk of a new liver disease―even after they have controlled or been cured of their first one.

“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle after transplant is critical,” says Dr. Wattacheril. “Beverly’s big problem has been weight gain, as it is for many liver transplant patients. Getting to a normal weight, keeping an active lifestyle and avoiding alcohol or drugs is key for this group. Due to immunosuppression, they also have a slightly higher risk for developing diabetes, dyslipidemia (high levels of cholesterol, triglycerides and fats in the blood), and cardiovascular disease. So we have special focus on keeping these patients fit and healthy.”

“Dr. Wattacheril is my ideal physician. She’s straightforward, conscientious and covers all the bases,” says Beverly. “And the whole transplant team is helping me to stay in optimal condition A nutritionist has been advising me on how to lose weight and eat more healthily, cutting back on carbohydrates.” So far, the adjustments have been fairly easy. “I just love raisin bread and butter! I don’t have to give it up, just ration it. Dr. Wattacheril is also encouraging me to take Zumba and to walk more. She’s a good motivator―I’ve already lost 13 pounds and I’m feeling great.”

By participating in a new national database, Beverly will also be able to help other patients and learn more about her condition.

“I can’t wait to talk to her about the All of Us Research Program,” says Dr. Wattacheril. “This is an historic initiative from the National Institutes of Health to gather data on one million patients that will help us deliver precision for a variety of diseases. Columbia is now enrolling patients in the New York area, to study individual differences in genetics, lifestyle, and environment, and learn what causes liver cancer and other illnesses. Patients like Beverly will have access to everything we discover about their condition and they’ll accelerate our research for a variety of health conditions.”

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