Dr. Marc Chalaby, a San Antonio pulmonologist, regularly spends long hours counseling and treating his patients. But when he learned one of his patients, Serena Irons, needed a liver transplant to survive, Dr. Chalaby went beyond a physician’s normal call of duty.
Serena, 68, had overcome numerous health threats including hepatitis C only to learn that the disease left her with liver cancer.
Her primary care doctor gave her more alarming news. “The only hope was to consider a transplant,” said Dr. Manuel Quinones, Serena’s primary care doctor.
Serena joined a waiting list through the University Health Transplant Institute, the only liver transplant program in South Texas for living donors.
She shared her diagnosis with Dr. Chalaby. Over the years, he had become much more than one of her doctors. As a missionary for her church, Serena had persuaded him to join a trip to a Mexican village where people desperately needed medical care. The two had worked side by side saving lives.
Without telling her, Dr. Chalaby went through testing at the University Health Transplant Institute where he learned he was a compatible donor. He could save Serena’s life by giving her part of his healthy liver. “She wasn’t very high on the list (for deceased donors), and the only way she was going to get a donor is a living donor,” Dr. Chalaby said.
Serena was shocked when a transplant coordinator called saying she had a match. Her donor (Dr. Chalaby) wanted to stay anonymous. He worried that if Serena knew he was the donor, she wouldn’t accept it. They both knew it was a major surgery.
On the day before her transplant at University Health, Serena accidentally found out that Dr. Chalaby was her anonymous donor. She was at the Transplant Institute for some final tests when she saw Dr. Chalaby waiting in the same line.
“All I said was, ‘Are you the one?’ And he said yes,” Serena said. “I call him my superhero, and now we’re connected for life. We’re family.”
Since her liver transplant, Serena’s health has improved greatly. She walks for 45 minutes every day, and can even get on the floor to play with her grandchildren.
Living Donors Save Lives
If you or a loved one need a liver transplant, please consider the University Health Transplant Institute. If you are considering donating part of your liver, please find more information on our Living Liver Donor page.