As far as Rondie Ann Harris knew, she was the one getting the gift of life from a stranger, a new set of organs to replace those that had betrayed her.
Nobody - not even the doctors engaged in the quest to save her - foretold that Rondie, 17, was about to learn a vital lesson of life.
Sometimes, when you get, you end up giving, too.
In a feat of medical derring-do concocted over the operating table, a transplant team implanted organs from a donor into Rondie’s body - and then removed the teenager’s healthy liver and gave it to an older woman.
Organ recipient had turned liver donor, all in the same grueling operation, an accomplishment that made medical history in the United States.
“I didn’t find out until a few days after the surgery, and I was glad I could help somebody while I was helping myself at the same time,” Rondie said. “That was neat.”
She sat straight up in a hospital chair Friday, 15 days after the surgery. Her voice was still tremulous, her face wan. Tubes trailed from her body.
But this was the best she had been in 10 years, since doctors diagnosed her with a condition that prevented her from processing food. For three years, her name lingered on the list of people needing a new intestine.
Finally, she was summoned earlier this month from the family home in Reading, Pa. We’ve got a match, transplant pioneer Andreas G. Tzakis told her.
In procedures like Rondie’s, doctors prefer to transplant a full block of organs rather than try to mix and match old and new. In this case, there were the intestines, the stomach, the pancreas, the liver. The organs came from a donor whom Tzakis would describe only as a small pediatric donor - smaller than Rondie.
As a corps of doctors hovered over Rondie they realized the teen’s liver was strong and healthy, but not necessarily a good match with the donated organs.
Tzakis consulted with his colleagues. They would perform a domino liver transplant, they decided, if Rondie’s mother agreed. Luann Harris gave her permission.
There was a perfect candidate already waiting at Jackson, a woman who had received a transplanted liver. It failed.
But doctors would say Rondie’s liver appears to be functioning fine inside the older woman. And the organs implanted in Rondie are functioning normally.