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'Most selfless person I've ever met': Living liver donor saves friend in robotic-assisted procedure

"This is a game changer," said Amanda Ray. "This whole thing has been nothing short of a miracle in my opinion."

DALLAS — Amber Coats and Amanda Ray have been friends for more than a decade: friends of friends originally to be exact. 

But now, thanks to a life-saving robotic-assisted procedure and Amanda's willingness to put her own life on the line, they can't call themselves just slightly acquainted friends anymore.

We met them both at the Case Building in Dallas' Deep Ellum. It is also home to a place called the Twice Blessed House: a series of apartments where transplant patients recover while being close to the medical follow-ups they need at nearby Baylor Scott & White. And, fittingly, twice blessed is exactly what both women believe themselves to be.

"I would have never thought this year I would be that I'd be blessed," Amber said.

After years of friendship that included serving as bridesmaids in the same wedding, Amber got sick.

"It's hard to get through the day by day. Because people just don't understand," she said.

It was liver failure. A rare condition called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PCS), a chronic liver disease caused by progressive inflammation and scarring of the bile ducts of the liver. It causes impaired flow of bile which damages the liver cells and may lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and cancer. 

A transplant would be Amber's only option. But the average wait for a donor, someone who has died, can be as long as five years. Amber didn't have that much time.

"It was very scary and being in my early 30s. But," she said with a nervous laugh, "here I am today!"

Because another friend of a friend made a phone call. She called Amanda.

"So I asked what Amber's blood type was and it was O+ and I'm O-. And I was like, well I can do it," Amanda said.

Amanda didn't even know at the time that doctors can take a portion of a living donor's liver, transplant it into another person and both people get to live.

"So the extraordinary thing about the liver is that it has the ability to regenerate," said Dr. Amar Gupta with Baylor Scott & White. He performed the surgery last month. 

With the help of a robotic surgical device called DaVinci, he took 65% of Amanda's liver and, in a more traditional hands-on surgical procedure, gave it to Amber.

"But the fact of the matter is anybody can be a donor," said Dr. Gupta.

"This is a game changer," said Amanda. "This whole thing has been nothing short of a miracle.in my opinion."

Credit: Amanda Ray and Amber Coats

Because on the day we met Amber and Amanda at the Twice Blessed House, only 11 days had passed since the surgery. And both women, who greeted each other in a cautious slow-motion hug in a hospital hallway the day after the surgery, are doing well.

"I would be fighting for my life, and she saved it," Amber said. "No one could give me anything more in life than that. So, she's just an angel on earth." 

"While I am so honored, so honored, to have this opportunity. At the end of the day this isn't my story. This is about Amber," Amanda said.

"And it's about life," said Amber. "And she's the most selfless person I've ever met in my life."

It's life that transplant surgeons hope other donors might be willing to give, knowing that robotic surgery for the organ donor means smaller incisions and quicker recoveries.

"These wonderful people are stepping forward and sacrificing their health, their body, to help another human being. And for that reason we think that we should do everything we can to make the operation and recovery as easy and pleasant for the donor as possible," said Dr. Gupta.

The only problem now for these former friends of friends is what do they consider themselves and their relationship now?

"Sisters," Amber said with a laugh. 

"Lifelong, yeah, exactly," answered Amanda.

Oh, and the only other problem. It really hurts to laugh.

"It is very hard," Amber said has she held her right hand to her abdomen and tried to stop giggling. "But it's worth it," she said.

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