All of our patients are pretty special, but there is something extraordinary about a liver transplant recipient who comes all the way from Gaffney, S.C. to host a party to thank the medical team who cared for her while she was at Emory Transplant Center.
Evonne Leland received a lifesaving liver transplant on April 22, 2015. She came back on the same date one year later — this time in good health — to celebrate what we at the Emory Transplant Center like to call a one-year “liver-versary.” A former restaurant owner, Leland, with help from her family and friends, organized a lunch to thank Emory Transplant Center staff and physicians. It was a true celebration of life.
“Before I came to Emory,” Leland says, “I was told there was nothing I could do; I had only six to nine months to live.”
Throughout the mid-1990s, Leland had one medical issue after another, resulting in many visits to doctors. In 2001, Leland learned she had an abnormal finding on her liver, and by 2009, her liver began to fail. In 2014, Leland was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and placed on the liver transplant waitlist in Charlotte, NC. Due to her health status at that time, she had to be taken off the list. She subsequently sought a second opinion at another hospital in North Carolina, but she was told her cancer was out of the criteria for a transplant there.
Leland then made a call to Emory Transplant Center and was able to make an appointment right away with the Emory Liver Tumor Clinic. “Mrs. Leland came here on April 2, 2015 and because we have a multidisciplinary clinic, we were able to arrange for the right specialists to evaluate her and obtain the necessary imaging studies to evaluate her liver cancer,” says Dr. Anjana Pillai, a transplant hepatologist and director of the Liver Tumor Clinic. “She was able to see the specialists she needed and we were able to make the decision to admit her that same day and expedite her liver transplant evaluation.” The Emory Liver Tumor Clinic was opened three years ago and has coordinated a multidisciplinary team of transplant hepatologists and surgeons, medical oncologists, palliative oncologists, interventional radiologists, and advanced practice providers to care for HCC patients.
Leland received her transplant only three weeks after her first visit to Emory. It has been a difficult road over the past year, but she is an example of how the Emory Liver Tumor Clinic’s multidisciplinary team works with each patient with HCC, or tumors originating in the liver, to determine a care plan that is best for him or her. Leland has made a remarkable recovery.
“I am so grateful for my transplant,” Leland says. “When so many doors were closed, Emory opened one for me.” Dr. Joe Magliocca, surgical director of the liver transplant program, was her surgeon.
The Emory Liver Tumor Clinic treats patients with HCC, which often is the result of cirrhosis, or liver scarring, from chronic liver disease and decompensation. Patients with early-stage HCC and cirrhosis treated with liver transplantation have a five-year survival rate of 75%, compared to only 25% to 30% without a transplant. HCC is a growing problem in the U.S.
According to Leland, “It was so nice to see the staff again now that I am so much better. I get up in the morning, and I can hold up my hands and they work. I can get out of bed and my legs work. And I don’t have to be on dialysis any more. I am so happy at what I can do. Each milestone is so very important. I’m getting there!”