SUGAR GROVE – After beating a rare form of lymphoma in 2016, Sugar Grove resident Blair Peters was ready to move on with his life, looking forward to years of good health.
But just two years later, Peters, 48, was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. Luckily he wasn’t experiencing serious symptoms, but that changed in early 2019 when fluid began to build up near his lungs, which was caused by his failing liver. Now once again, he’s facing a life-threatening condition.
“I had at least five liters of fluid removed, and then I had a procedure which is like a liver bypass which cuts down on the fluid buildup,” Peters said. “So some fluid bypasses the liver and goes back into my bloodstream, which makes my blood more toxic. That causes me to get forgetful. I’m functioning, I’m working, but I’m very fatigued. I’m not myself. I’m much weaker and my quality of life is much less than it was before.”
Peters’ cancer was caught early, but he had to undergo aggressive chemotherapy to treat it. He said that most people who get mantle cell lymphoma, the type he had, don’t live long if diagnosed in later stages, so he never thought of forgoing the intense chemotherapy treatments.
“I wanted to be as aggressive as possible because mantle cell is a deadly form of cancer and I don’t want to deal with cancer again,” he said. “But my nonmedical opinion is that my chemo treatments damaged my liver. Docs aren’t willing to say the chemo caused it, but I didn’t have [cirrhosis] prior to treatment, and I didn’t change anything, and after treatments I had [cirrhosis].”
Peters is seeking a living liver donor with Type O blood. The liver is the only organ in the body to grow back and regenerate, making living donation possible, said Dr. Steven Flamm, hepatologist and medical director of liver transplantation at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. Flamm said about half of the donor’s liver is removed and transplanted into the recipients, and that both livers typically regrow back to their original size within a month.
Flamm has been overseeing Peters’ case since March, and said that while Peters isn’t critical, he is “a sick man” who needs a new liver in order to have a normal life.
“There’s no indication that Blair will die tomorrow, but he’s sick. When you have liver failure, you don’t feel well, and getting a transplant will undoubtedly save his life,” Flamm said. “The one-year survival rate after liver transplantation is over 90%. There are people who, without a transplant, have a survival rate of less than 50%.”
Peters is able to work, but said he can’t travel because he has to stay close to home in case a liver becomes available. Both his wife and two daughters were tested to become donors, but none has the same blood type, which is necessary for a transplant. He said that he’s had a few people volunteer to be tested for compatibility, but nothing has worked out so far.
“I’ve been on the transplant list for about two months. In theory I could live like this for years, but anything could change and suddenly I get really sick and in great need,” he said. “I feel like I’m sick all the time. It’s very emotionally and physically draining. It’s about quality of life because I’m dealing with liver failure.”
Those who are interested in potentially becoming a living organ donor must be 18 to 55 years old, in good health and have a BMI of less than 30. The patient’s insurance generally covers the donor’s medical expenses. For information about living organ donation at Northwestern Medicine, call the transplant hotline at 312-695-0340.