No More Blackouts

While she waited for a liver transplant, Kelli Lee Yonker was admitted to St. Paul University Hospital at least a dozen times in 10 months.

“I would black out,” she said. “Toxins would build up in my body, and I just wouldn’t wake up.”

 Twice, she got the call that a liver transplant was available, only to learn that the organ was not a match.

As her weight plunged, the school librarian held onto her belief that she eventually would get a transplant.

On Sept. 4, 2011, she did.

“I’ve been perfectly fine ever since, but I know I would not be here if not for the wonderful nurses and doctors at UT Southwestern,” she said. “They were so warm and welcoming.”

Since 2007, the UT Southwestern transplant team has performed 84 liver transplants.

One of the immediate priorities is improving organ donations so more lives can be saved, said Dr. Juan Arenas, Associate Professor of Surgery.

“Nationally, the donor pool has become very stagnant in the last 10 years,” he said. “It remains fixed, which leads to high mortality.”

Still, the outlook is positive, Dr. Arenas said.

“With the careful selection of candidates, improvements in immunosuppressants and new treatments, liver transplantation is now probably the best it has ever been,” he said.

The focus will continue to be on saving lives and giving patients such as Mrs. Yonker a second chance.

“People who see me now cannot believe the difference,” she said. “I am very, very lucky to have found right liver transplant surgeons to do such a good job.”