Though Joy MaGarrey and Diane Peirce are strangers, MaGarrey donated part of her liver to Peirce, who was suffering from uncommon liver disease. Peirce’s situation was looking grim as she had been on the liver transplant waiting list for more than two years. Diane Peirce was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). This is an illness that shrinks the bile ducts in the liver, making bile to mount up and damage the organ. Most patients suffering from PSC eventually require a transplant as there is no cure for the disease.
However, Peirce failed to understand that the odds of acquiring a new liver were stacked against her. Studies show that the chances of women receiving a liver transplant are low, and they are more likely to die on the waiting list than men. In 2018, a study conducted on 90,720 registrants in a transplant network database revealed that women were 20% less likely to get a transplant and more likely to die four years after getting on the list. This is because the deceased donors are more often men whose liver donations are too big for women.
Besides, the other factor that favors men is the MELD (model for end-stage liver disease) scoring system, which uses several biological measurements to establish the urgency with which a transplant is required. According to experts, little has been done to improve the system even though the transplant community has known about this disparity since the early 2000s. Another study has shown that women can enhance their chances of survival with living donors. They studied 1,289 patients and revealed that the availability of a potential living donor “equalized access to liver transplants for women, whereas they were significantly disadvantaged without a potential living donor.”
The research established that access to a living donation could make women overcome transplant inequity. The findings will drive policy changes that can narrow that gap, promote discussions around the disparity, and pinpoint the role living donations can make in saving lives. The findings will also be part of the conversation during Living Donation Week from Monday, Sept. 14. Dr. Mamatha Bhat, a hepatologist with University Health Network’s (UHN) Ajmera Transplant Centre and senior author of the study, stated that in their experience, they had seen more females going the right route of living liver donation.
On the other hand, Peirce’s family shared her story publicly after launching a campaign to find a living donor by developing a website. Peirce said they built a website for her, and they just blasted it everywhere. Around half-an-hour away, the campaign caught the attention of MaGarrey. In late April, at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, during a procedure at UHN’s Toronto General, she donated a part of her liver to Peirce. MaGarrey said she would not have known at all about her need had she not seen an article about Peirce.