Thirty years ago, things certainly weren't like they are today. For starters, this fine publication wasn't around; social media didn't exist; there were no cell phones (unless you wanted to pay a cool $2,500 for a Motorola DynaTAC 8500XL); and a gallon of gas set you back less than a buck. If you needed a liver transplant back then, your chances of surviving for more than one year after transplant were about 75 percent. But don't tell that to MaryEllen Lannon. It's been more than 30 years since a transplant team at Mayo Clinic gave her a new liver. And she's showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. "I feel great," she tells us. "I really do."
That wasn't the case when MaryEllen first came to Mayo Clinic from her home in Washington, D.C. "I was in a drug study at Mayo for two years before my transplant," she tells us. "I'd met with Dr. (Nicholas) LaRusso, and he talked to me about some of the studies Mayo was doing at the time and he thought I'd be a good candidate for one."
Once enrolled, MaryEllen returned to Mayo every six months for study-related blood work — until one day, she couldn't. "I became really jaundiced," she says. "I just didn't feel right and I remember Dr. LaRusso saying, 'You should probably get out here.' And shortly thereafter I ended up being medevaced to Rochester."
There, Dr. LaRusso and others were waiting and working to find MaryEllen a new liver. When they did, she was cautiously optimistic. "I was also scared because there were just so many unknowns at the time," she says. "But through the skill, care and perseverance of my care team, and my friends and family, I came out of the transplant just fine."
In addition to prolonged health, MaryEllen tells us there’s something else that’s come out of her transplant experience at Mayo Clinic: a lasting friendship with the care team who made it all happen. “I felt very fortunate and very lucky to have (now-retired surgeon) Sylvester Sterioff, M.D., and (gastroenterologist) Russell Wiesner, M.D., as part of my care team, and (now-retired) Ruud Krom, M.D., Ph.D., as my surgeon,” MaryEllen says. “They’re all wonderful, and Dr. Krom and I continue to have a close friendship to this day.”
Dr. Krom tells us that MaryEllen's post-transplant health and longevity weren't necessarily a given at the time of her transplant. "When MaryEllen was transplanted, I couldn't think of a 30-year survival for her because I'd never seen that before," he tells us. He also has "patients who I transplanted in the 1970s who are also still alive. And I think that's because the liver is a very interesting organ. It seems to adapt itself well to the body," Dr. Krom says. "When things go right, these patients go on to have long, normal lives."
Just ask MaryEllen Lannon.
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