Family of Nebraska's first liver transplant recipient is paying it forward

Posted at 7:35 PM, Sep 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-26 12:44:31-04

Doctors performed Nebraska's first ever liver transplant in 1984. The little girl who received that liver is all grown up now, and her husband recently helped another man by donating part of his liver. In this way, they are continuing the cycle of giving that started with a little boy 33 years ago. 

Matthew Bemis was just two-years-old when he drowned. His parents Janet and Milt Bemis made the decision to donate his organs. The Bemises heard about a sick girl at UCLA in California through a KMTV report. They learned Matthew's liver saved 12-month-old Lily Mandel. She was dying from a massive liver tumor. The Bemises lived in Nebraska, but the surgery was in California. Matthew's liver was the first to be recovered in Nebraska. 

Lily Mandel and the Bemises met years ago and have continued spreading a message about the importance of organ donation. Mandel got married in 2008. Her husband, Brian Allen, decided he wanted to help others too. 

Allen told us, "It didn't matter to me who. I wanted to give someone the chance to have the same opportunities that we've had." As a living donor, Allen gave part of his liver. He was able to meet the recipient this summer. That man turned 50 after receiving the donation. 

"There's guilt associated with waiting. You know, you're hoping for someone to pass so you can live," Mandel went on to say this about why her husband chose to donate, "And that's horrendous. And he wanted it to be one less person who had to feel that guilty."

More than three decades later, the legacy of Matthew Bemis continues. His parents say, "I think he'd be really proud."

The number of living organ donors is 6,000 a year. In about 25% of those, the donor and recipient did not know each other. 

You can learn more about living organ donation on Nebraska Medicine's web site, by clicking here. 

And if you would like to become an organ donor, you can follow this link.