City teacher hoping for a new lease on life

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Kim MacLennan, left, is hoping against hope that a new “live” liver donor can be found so that she can undergo a transplant. A massive cyst, growing up to the size of a watermelon, has made her life miserable and created a litany of complications including weight loss, hair loss and led to what is believed to be a small stroke. She’s tried to keep her chin up, and even helps her daughter Alex study for exams.

Kim MacLennan understands the gravity of the request she is making - but the Cornwall teacher has to ask anyway. She's literally a one-in a-billion liver patient.

MacLennan, a mother of two who teaches at Holy Trinity Secondary School, has ridden a medical roller coaster over the last nine years that is mercifully pulling into the station with a diagnosis that she needs a liver transplant.

The problem is the train is likely to pull away again for another run around the track, because the bureaucracy of transplant policies in Ontario means she must search high and low for a "live" liver donor who is willing to undergo an invasive procedure to share part of their life-sustaining organ with her.

"It's very easy to say go for the transplant," she said, tears streaming down her face. "But when you're the person getting it done, there are questions."

No kidding - like who out there is willing to submit to a surgery that will last several hours and involve giving up half their liver?

MacLennan, who is on medical leave from her job, has been suffering with a cystadenoma - a cyst with "a mind of its own" attached to her liver. She said she is one of only nine in the world to have such a condition.

The destructive mass, filled with bile, has grown so large over the years that it once rivalled the size of a watermelon. It has completely destroyed two of the three veins that transport blood through the liver and is now so big it is beginning to actually rotate her right kidney.

Complications since the cyst was discovered in 2002 read like a medical resume from hell. Tubes have been inserted in the cyst to help draw away the bile which adds to its size. But with no bile being used to help her digest food, MacLennan has lost 90 pounds since last summer, her hair is falling out and she has little to no strength.

But with alll these problems, she is still not a top candidate for a liver transplant.

"The funny thing is, my liver is healthy," she said, adding her liver does not meet the criteria to be matched with a so-called "dead donor" - someone killed in a car accident, for example, who has consented to have their organs donated.

So she has been pushed further down the waiting list and now must hope a "live" donor can be found who wants to help.

The good news is within two months the liver, the only organ in the human body to do so, will grow back to normal size. So, following surgery, the donor will return to living a normal life.

MacLennan's son Kyle is being assessed to determine if he is a match for his mother. If not, MacLennan and a team of physicians will have to broaden their search for a donor.

"Everything we've done to get rid of the cyst has gone wrong," she said, referring to a litany of surgeries and procedures over the years that have been unable to separate the cyst from her liver. One surgery, completed years ago, resulted in two-thirds of the cyst being removed. But in a matter of weeks it had returned to normal size - maybe even a bit bigger.

"I have to find people who are willing to be tested," said MacLennan, who is supposed to meet with transplant officials any day now for more assessments. "Then they have to agree to the transplant."

The Trillium Gift of Life Network (www.giftoflife.on.ca) in Ontario governs live liver donations in the province and all other tissue and organ procedures.

A potential donor must be in good overall health and physical condition,  older than 18 and younger than 60, have a liver that is the right size for the recipient, similar blood type and similar body size.

"I keep my fingers crossed," said MacLennan. "You don't think about these things when you don't have to.

"Now I have to."

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Recent comments

  • stacy
    February 26, 2014 - 18:08

    I'd like to know how to get tested to find out if I'm a match.

  • Gerry Dean
    February 26, 2014 - 16:40

    Hello Kim I would be willing to get tested to help keep you alive. Please let me know where and when I need to go to do these test to help.

  • Cheryl Wolfe
    February 26, 2014 - 13:37

    I would love to help this woman out...could someone message me with information...I have undergone 2 spinal fusions...besides my back I am a very healthy woman.....I would love to be tested to help if we are compatible....same size same age...please contact me.

  • Richard
    January 23, 2013 - 22:00

    Keep the faith in finding someone. Talk to everyone and spread the news Our son needed a liver within 6 months and we had 9 people come forward I was fortunate to be healthy enough to donate 71% of my liver. The risks are very slim but you get to save someone's life. You will recover and your liver does grow back quickly. You will recover completely within 12 weeks.

  • Todd Lihou
    January 22, 2013 - 22:30

    More contact info for Trillium Gift of Life: Mary Rada, Living Donor Coordinator: 613-738-8400 x82778.

  • Todd Lihou
    January 22, 2013 - 15:36

    From reader Richard St. Amour: Trillium Gift of Life information line: 1-800-263-2833.

  • Kristina
    January 22, 2013 - 12:41

    I really would like to help, can someone tell me how to get tested to help her.

  • Jeanne matte
    January 22, 2013 - 11:47

    I'm also needing the info to be tested!

  • Todd Lihou
    January 22, 2013 - 11:27

    Hi guys...the info on where to get information on making a donation is contained at the end of the story, including requirements. Try the Trillium Gift of Life Network at www.giftoflife.on.ca.

  • Cynthia
    January 22, 2013 - 10:21

    Where would one go to be tested for being a candidate for donation? And yes, I would really like to know.

    • Kim
      January 22, 2013 - 11:06

      Me too! Please give me the info