“Maybe because it’s only luck that both of those transplants were supposed to be at the same time,” Nir Uriel, the director of heart failure, transplant and mechanical circulatory support for the hospital, said at a news conference Friday. University of Chicago Medicine has performed the most heart-liver-kidney transplants in the world.
Just eight minutes after a medical team finished Smith’s liver transplant on Dec. 20, hospital staff learned that donor organs were available for McPharlin. Smith, who finished surgery that day, became only the 16th person in the U.S. to undergo a heart-liver-kidney transplant and hours later on Dec. 21 McPharlin became the 17th. Each surgery required a 22-person team, with some staffers working on both patients. The hospital also performed five other organ transplants during that time period.
Smith and McPharlin, who had her first heart transplant at the age of 12, arrived at the Chicago hospital in November. But neither knew they were both seeking a triple transplant when they first met during pre-therapy sessions ahead of surgery. The sessions were quiet and patients didn’t share details about their transplants. But McPharlin’s mother, who quit her job as a school teacher in Michigan to be with her daughter for treatment, pried out of Smith that he was awaiting the same organs as McPharlin.
“It’s been mind-blowing and amazing, having someone go through the process with me, gave me more motivation,” Smith, a truck driver, said during a video interview at the hospital Friday.
The pair, who are recovering on the same hospital floor, share walks and give each other high-fives when they pass one another in the hallways. Their families are already planning a dinner together in the city once the two are released and feeling better. Nurses say they notice a difference in recovery for the two compared to other transplant patients, because they have gone through the same unusual and debilitating surgery together.
McPharlin and Smith notice too.
“It was so cool to know we would be able to see each other progress together,” McPharlin, an occupational therapist, said Friday. “It was really cool to see how Daru was getting up in the hall and I knew eventually, or pretty soon, I would be doing the same.”