DALLAS - As Dana Pack walks by the wall of transplant milestones in Baylor University Medical Center's history, it never occurred to her that she is now one of them.
The 46 year old has long lived with non-cancerous, but potentially deadly, liver tumors.
"That was the most likely thing, is that the tumors could burst," Pack said.
Because she's not sick enough, Pack has been on the transplant waiting list for 12 years. In May, she became Baylor's first living-donor liver transplant recipient.
Living liver transplants are rare, with less than 250 nationwide last year. Experts say the reason for the low number is two-fold: the procedure itself is more dangerous to the donor than living kidney transplants, and there had been plenty of cadaver livers available for transplant.
"But the abundance has gone away," explained Dr. Goran Klintmalm, a transplant surgeon and chairman and chief of the Baylor Regional Transplant Institute. "A few years ago, I kind of decided that it was time for us to get back into it."
Klintmalm said Baylor did perform a handful of living transplants more than a decade ago. Now, Baylor has the southwest's only active living liver transplant program.
With exception of skin, livers are the only organ in the body that regenerates. Once a liver is split for donation, both the donor and recipient livers grow back to within 95 percent of their size within a month.
"I think this is terribly important," Klintmalm said. "It's important for patients here who, like Dana, don't have any other opportunities to get a liver in time, before something bad happens."
Dana Pack doesn't think about the controversy. She does give thanks to her living donor, a caring co-worker who turned out to be the perfect match and was willing to take a risk.
Pack also hopes her successful case makes a difference to others in need.
"It gives them so much hope that they can get a liver transplant before they're on their death bed, and you have a better chance of survival," Pack said. "You haven't got all the underlying diseases that you get while you're waiting on the list. This gives hope."