America’s First

Alyssa Smith was born with biliary atresia, a condition of the liver which would be incompatible with life by the time she was around three-years-old. She needed a liver transplant but chances of an infant donor becoming available were bleak.

In those days only a cadaveric donor liver transplant was possible in the United States. Partial livers had been transplanted in a few places and a handful of living donor liver transplants had been done in Germany, not all successfully. Fortunately for the Smith family the surgeon who had been performing these living donor transplants had moved to the U.S. He was currently on staff at the University of Chicago Hospital.

Alyssa and her parents Teresa & John

At the age of twenty-one months Alyssa was the recipient of part of her mother’s liver in the first ever living donor liver transplant in the U.S. I was privileged to be on hand for this historic occasion. On the day after Thanksgiving, 1989, Teresa gave 40% of her liver to her infant daughter and although there were a couple of complications it was a successful transplant covered by the media all over the world.

Over the next several years I was able to follow Alyssa’s progress and then to meet her again in 2006 when she was graduating high school. Alyssa is now over thirty years old and has given birth to her own son. This family was special in so many ways and I am grateful to have known them and shared in their amazing journey.

Alyssa Smith at Age 21

“Once you’ve given your heart it is easy to give a little bit of liver.” Teresa Smith


More of Alyssa’s story and extensive details of the procedure are available in this Chicago Tribune article: