Doctors in Rochester regrowing liver inside patients' bodies
Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - Jim Bowman has so much to live for. The walls of his home are filled with photos of generations of his family, including his two precious granddaughters Maggie and Clara.
So he works out - and takes good care of his health.
A diagnosis of colon cancer in July was a shock - and then it got worse.
"The cancer had metastasized to the liver. It was very devastating. It was dire news," Jim told 13WHAM's Jane Flasch.
Jim was headed toward end of life palliative care - until he met Dr. Roberto Hernandez-Alejandro.
"When patients have advanced liver cancer we need to remove too much liver and the remaining liver is going to be too small that they will have liver failure," Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro explained.
So Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro suggested Bowman use his old liver to grow a new one.
When Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro moved to Rochester last year, he brought along his expertise in liver transplants, along with a technique called the ALPPS procedure that he pioneered in North America.
It's based on a simple but amazing secret of the liver. The left lobe, if given proper blood supply, can re-grow itself. It only takes a few days.
"Amazingly in just 7 to 10 days, that small portion of liver will almost duplicate its size," Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro said.
Jim's wife Ruby recounted what happened next.
"He said, 'I met a man,'" Ruby said. "He said, 'I think he can do something.'"
"We talked about that this would provide me with hope and time - possibly," Jim added. "But that there were risks."
The procedure requires two delicate surgeries; the first one lasts six to eight hours.
When the right lobe is filled with cancer, Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro can carefully separate the lobes, making sure each receives blood supply.
Within 7 to 10 days, the left lobe grows by a third. That allows the cancerous lobe to be removed in a second operation.
The healthy liver continues to regenerate to about 80 percent of its original size.
"The surgery works and it gives the patients opportunities," Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro. "Some of them being cured and some of them to have longer survival and better quality of life."
"I built my hopes around that," Ruby said. "Not knowing if it was possible but believing it was going to happen. That a surgical option was available and it was going to extend his life."
Dr. Hernandez-Alejandro has performed the operation 40 times. He's now based at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Rochester is one of only a handful of cities in North America where the surgery is performed.
He says liver regeneration may one day provide solutions for transplant patients when there are shortages of donor organs.
Tests show Jim's liver is successfully regrowing - and appears to be handling the chemo treatments he continues to undergo.
"This has provided me in my 7th decade of life with a measure of hope," Jim said. "I don't believe that our lives have intersected accidentally. "
Jim is making plans for the future. After all, he has so much to live for.