Organ Donation Triumph: Intermountain Health Center’s Unparalleled Transplant Program


Hal McNeil was hesitant at first to accept a liver transplant because he had only been on the list for six months.

At the time, the 64-year-old man from Hurricane thought that other people were in more urgent need, but the doctors who did the surgery told him it was necessary right away. He is thankful that he is still living with his wife, kids, and grandkids.

The Intermountain Health transplant program did 414 surgeries like McNeil’s in 2023, which was the most ever for an adult transplant.

People who were very important to that success were at a media event on Monday to celebrate the fact that the organ donation program is one of the best in the country. The Intermountain Health transplant program at the Intermountain Health Center in Murray performed 182 liver transplants, 198 kidney transplants, 30 heart transplants, and four kidney/pancreas transplants in 2023. The work of this program saved the lives of hundreds of Utahns and people from other states.

McNeil joined the program after doctors found tumors on his liver. He is one of many people whose lives were saved by the hardworking people who ran the Intermountain Health transplant program in 2023.

In 2017, McNeil was diagnosed with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and had his gallbladder removed. However, the surgeon who did the surgery also found two lumps on his liver.

For the next five years, McNeil’s hepatologist closely watched him. Unfortunately, in January 2023, another growth was found on McNeil’s liver, which put him higher on the list for a liver donation. To McNeil’s surprise, he got a call in July of the next year telling him that a liver had become available in Alaska.

In the beginning, McNeil said, “No.” He was telling the story of being told that a liver was available for him, even though he had only been on the list for six months. He remembers that he wasn’t ready. McNeil said through tears that his wife and children persuaded him to have the surgery.

McNeil said that even though his liver was damaged and failing, he wasn’t in a lot of pain, which is why he didn’t feel ready to accept the liver transplant at first. Because of this, he thought he could wait. He thought about all the other people who were also waiting for a liver transplant and felt nervous about accepting the transplant because he had only been on the list for six months, which is a short time to wait for someone.

“The liver wasn’t healthy, but it wasn’t hurting me, so I wasn’t feeling bad,” McNeil said, describing why he was nervous at first about getting the transplant so soon, thinking of the 880 people who are still waiting on the list. “I can wait. Some people on the list have been there for months or even years.” This is what they need.

But a lot of good things happened at once, like the fact that McNeil has Type B positive blood, which is a less common blood type. This is what made his donation happen so fast. McNeil was given a liver that was a perfect match for him because the person who gave it to him had the same blood type. After McNeil agreed to take the liver, two of his doctors boarded a medical jet that flew to Alaska to pick up the donated organ and bring it to Utah in time for his surgery, which went very well.

McNeil said that the doctors told him after the transfer that the liver they took out of him needed to be taken out right away. He is very thankful to the Intermountain Health Transplant Program and its staff for giving him a new start in life.

“When it comes to liver transplants, we’re the fifth most aggressive program in the country,” said Dr. Jean Botha, who works as a transplant surgeon and is in charge of Intermountain Health’s stomach transplant program. “What’s important is that we’re not just putting in organs and hoping for the best — we know which organs will work best for our patients.”

People who go through the Intermountain Health Transplant Program are known to have a very good chance of living, even years after surgery. Dr. Rami Alharethi is the medical director of the heart transplant and artificial heart program at Intermountain Medical Center. He was very excited to be a part of a heart transplant program where all patients survive three years after the transplant, which is one of the best survival rates in the country.

Why does the Intermountain Health transplant program stand out? Botha said, “It comes down to the people who are in the program.” “I’m clearly surrounded by people who are dedicated and passionate about what they do — it’s an incredible feeling that exists here.”

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