By Kathy Walsh
AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Best friends now have a lifesaving connection. At the end of May, both young women had surgery at the University of Colorado Hospital on the same day. One gave the other a portion of her liver. She took a major risk to give her friend a better quality of life.
That’s how 21-year-old Hessa Miller described her relationship with Hunter Dickson. They are two giggly college girls who have been friends since sixth grade.
“She’s me in a littler body,” said 20-year-old Dickson.
“Same sense of humor and the same interests,” said Miller.
“She’s raised the bar for every other friendship,” said Dickson.
“My platonic soul mate,” said Miller.
Turns out, Dickson is ideal for Miller in body, as well.
“I never really second guessed it,” said Dickson.
“It” was giving two-thirds of her liver to her friend. A rare condition, autoimmune hepatitis, had damaged Miller’s.
“It looked like I had been an alcoholic for 40 years,” said Miller.
Miller was hospitalized several times and had both hips replaced because high dose steroids made her bones brittle and her hip joints disintegrated. Dickson didn’t hesitate to become Miller’s living liver donor.
“It honestly just felt natural,” she told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh. “You need a liver? Yeah, I got one.”
Walsh asked Miller what her friend’s unselfish gift meant to her. She answered, “Everything.”
On May 31, there were plenty of 20-something selfies before surgery at UCH. But there was also fear.
“I was terrified that I would wake up and she wouldn’t,” said living donor, Dickson.
Both six-hour surgeries were successful. The two were battling with their walkers in the hospital in no time. They were told their livers will regenerate in 6 to 8 weeks. The “besties” expect their friendship to grow forever.
Miller’s surgeon was Dr. Thomas Bak, a Liver, Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Surgeon at UCH.
Dr. Michael Wachs was Dickson’s surgeon. He is Surgical Director of Pediatric Liver and Pediatric Kidney Transplantation at Children’s Hospital Colorado and Kidney and Transplant Surgeon for UCH.
Dr. Igal Kam is the Chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery at the University of Colorado Hospital. He said living liver donation is a “big deal” with risks. He added the job of surgeons is to do the best they can to protect the donor.
As for Miller, Kam said, “She will go back to normal life as close as possible with medication for many, many years.”
According to Kam, people who need a liver transplant and have living donors have the chance to survive and do well better than those who are very sick and waiting on the transplant list.