Social media post leads to live-saving donation

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CHICAGO – It was a social media post that changed the course of a young patient’s life. Two old acquaintances reunited on the Internet, and within a matter of months, made a connection that will live on for a lifetime.

It was an emotional reunion today for Kendra Perpich and Kimberly Parello; acquaintances who met 20 years ago are now forever bonded.

“I reconnected with Kimberly and learned her son was looking for a liver, and we had matching blood so I didn’t think twice about going to get tested. I have to be honest you don’t think you’re going to pass all the tests and be the match,” said Perpich.

But she was, and on Dec. 14, doctors at Northwestern Medicine removed the left lobe of Kendra’s liver – then walked it across the street to Lurie Children’s, where 14-year-old Anthony Parello awaited the life-altering transplant.

“People ask, ‘Why would you?’ My question is, ‘Why wouldn’t you?’” said Perpich.

“I think that social media has leveled the playing field so that it’s no longer who can afford to put up a billboard or go on television," said Dr. Michael Abecassis, Northwestern Medicine transplant surgeon. "This is becoming increasingly a way that people connect and get a story they feel they want to do something about.”

Anthony was born in 2001 with biliary atresia – a condition that causes the liver to scar and ultimately fail. After doctors discovered a large growth on the organ in 2011, Anthony was placed on the waiting list for a donor.

“No calls came and something one day just kind of popped in my head and said, ‘I think it’s time we start getting our search out for a living donor,’” said Kimberly Parella, Anthony’s mother.

So Kimblerly created a posting on Facebook, a call for help for her son. About the same time, Kendra – inspired to register as a living donor after her husband’s co-worker found a match for himself – waited for her own call. A mutual Facebook friend connected the dots and soon the testing process began.

“I don’t even know how many people emailed me. I lost count after the twentieth email. There’s so many criteria you have to pass. Kendra just kind of sent me a message saying what the heck everyone else hasn’t made it,” Kimberly said.

She added: “You try not to get your hopes up. It was the day before my birthday in November that she called and said she was Anthony’s match. You can’t even put it in words. This journey and this experience, people don’t get it how important organ donation is.”

“It means a lot to me and my family because it makes my mom and dad really emotional, so it’s a blessing Kendra was able to be a match so I can live a normal life like everyone else,” Anthony Parella said.

Said Kimberly, “It was just a hope well, at least I could say as his mother I tried, I tried to find a living donor for him … instead of just sitting back and waiting for the unknown to happen. It’s been a big relief.”

There is a rigorous screening process in place for living donors, both physical and psychological. If you’d like to learn more about the process at Northwestern Medicine, check out:

Northwestern Medicine Comprehensive Transplant Center living donor page: http://livingdonor.nm.org/

Living Liver donor transplantation: http://livingdonor.nm.org/living-liver-donation.html