About six years ago, doctors first diagnosed Mike Maudal with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), an aggressive form of fatty liver disease that can result in cirrhosis and liver failure, according to the Mayo Clinic. The diagnosis left him dumbfounded. Doctors initially treated him with dietary changes and medication, but in 2018, they told Maudal he would ultimately require a liver transplant.
“I pretty much went into denial. I really didn’t think I was that sick or that I’d need a transplant,” Mike Maudal told Good Morning America. “I thought I was going to beat the odds.”
Over time, Maudal’s family watched as his health deteriorated; a man who was once so full of energy and life was quickly transforming into a shell of his former self. Both physically and mentally, his condition worsened, which often happens in many people with NASH, as the liver is unable to remove toxins from the blood.
“It was really hard. He just got sicker and weaker and was struggling with everyday tasks,” his wife, Cindy Maudal said. “…And then trying to hold down the house at home, trying to work full-time, take care of his medications, it was stressful.”
His only daughter Molly was also struggling. Watching her father’s mental decline felt like seeing him become a completely different person.
“When I was growing up, he was so sharp, and to see him lose that to the disease was really hard,” she said. “He was always really jovial and would joke around and people loved him for his humor. It was like his personality changed.”
When Mike was placed on a waiting list for a liver transplant, his family and doctors began to worry that he wouldn’t be strong enough to undergo the surgery by the time he was eligible. That’s when they began to consider the option of a living donor liver transplant.
Unlike a deceased donor transplant, a living donor transplant only takes a portion of a healthy liver from a living donor, according to Columbia Surgery. Because of the liver’s unique ability to regenerate, the partial livers of both the donor and recipient eventually grow into complete organs within a few months.
“It’s amazing the number of people who have told us, ‘Oh, I thought I could only donate when I was deceased. I didn’t know I could do this when I was alive,'” Mike said. “It was news to us too when we started down this path years ago.”
In order to be an eligible living donor, a person typically needs to just have a matching blood type to the recipient and meet specific health requirements.
At first, Cindy volunteered, only to learn that she did not qualify as a transplant donor for her husband. The family began quietly asking close friends and family about the possibility of donating, only to come back empty-handed.
But it didn’t take long for Molly to step up and volunteer her liver. Although her parents did not want to ask and place pressure on their daughter, given that she was still young and in college.
“…We wanted her to finish her education,” Cindy explained. “She was young and as a parent, you don’t want to ask for something like that.”
However, unknown to her parents, Molly had been secretly planning to volunteer for a while in the case that her father needed her help.
“In the back of my mind, for several years through it all, I was thinking about being a donor and in several ways wanted to arrange my life so that just in case he needed an emergency transplant, I could be there,” she said.
In late 2020, Mike’s situation became dire when doctors informed him that his only chance of survival was to find a living donor. Immediately, his daughter began the evaluation process as a potential donor for her dad, undergoing multiple tests and physical exams, as well as meeting with a social worker and a psychiatrist.
By the end of April 2021, she received the call that she was eligible to donate part of her liver— and save her father’s life. Two months later, Mike and his daughter underwent a four-hour living-donor liver transplant surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
After the surgery, the father-daughter duo recovered in nearby hospital rooms and was eventually discharged in late June, within one day of each other.
“I remember Dr. Heimbach and another surgeon came up and told me, ‘Your liver was perfect for your dad.’ That was a fantastic feeling,” Molly said. “And I remember visiting dad in his room and we could visibly see him improving. His eyes weren’t as sunken and his color was improving. His sense of humor and personality came back so fast. It was amazing to see firsthand.”