Super-fast liver transplant as donor, 24, undergoes 48-hour battery of tests and interviews for operation to save best friend
Billy Sewell, 24, had just hours to live when surgeons got the go-ahead to transplant a slice of liver from his best friendLuke Gumble, also 24, underwent a range of medical and psychological tests before he was allowed to donate
15:15 GMT, 28 May 2012
Transplant surgeons have carried out a record-breaking live liver transplant operation to save a young man on the verge of death.
Billy Sewell, 24, had just hours to live when surgeons got the go-ahead to transplant a slice of liver from his best friend.
Normally such operations take weeks of planning.
But in just 48 hours, Luke Gumble underwent a range of medical tests and a battery of psychological interviews to allow him to donate.
Close: Billy Sewell (right) had just hours to live when surgeons got the go-ahead to transplant a slice of liver from his best friend Luke Gumball (left)
It is believed to be the first time a live liver transplant has been approved so quickly.
A team of doctors, scientists, transplant co-ordinators and medical ethicists at London’s Royal Free Hospital worked at break-neck speed to make it possible for Mr Gumble to give a chunk of his liver.
Mr Sewell did not have time on his side – he was literally on the edge of death when liver surgeons decided that his closest friend, also 24, was his only hope of survival.
Professor Max Malago, who carried out the transplant, said: 'I can’t recall a live case where we’ve operated so quickly.
'This was a patient needing a live transplant so urgently that we had no more than a couple of days to go through loads of tests and paper work.
'Even though there was extreme urgency everything had to be done by the book.'
One minute Mr Sewell, from Stevenage, Hertfordshire, was relatively well. The next, doctors at the Royal Free Hospital were giving him just days to live.
He said: 'I had been diagnosed with liver failure for a few months and the doctors were talking of a transplant with a dead donor liver some time in the future.
'But then I became very ill over the period of just a few days. In the end I was hanging on to life with my liver completely shot through.'
Race against time: The best friends pose with the team of doctors, scientists, transplant co-ordinators and medical ethicists from London's Royal Free Hospital
Nobody knows why Mr Sewell, who was fit and healthy, developed liver failure or why he suddenly became critically ill.
Friends and family offered to donate at short notice – just a week before the transplant. But all were found to be unsuitable.
Professor Malago said: 'Patients who are stable with liver disease can suddenly drop over the edge.
'We were faced with a situation where we needed someone close to give Billy a liver at very short notice. We weren’t going to find a dead donor.
'It’s not the way we normally work with live donors It was an unusual situation and we had to respond by working very quickly. It was a fantastic team effort.
'Even though a life is in the balance we cannot cut corners. There are a lot of processes to be gone through when someone gives a slice of their liver as a donor.
'But somehow we managed to get it all done between a Friday night and a Monday morning.
'All the time we were conscious that with every hour that passed we might lose Billy. He was that ill he could have gone at any time.'
Grateful: Mr Gumble and Mr Sewell with Professor Max Malago (right), who carried out the transplant
When everyone had been tested, the only satisfactory match for Mr Sewell was his childhood friend Mr Gumble, also from Stevenage.
He said: 'Billy’s sister was the nearest after me but she didn’t quite match up. So it was down to me.
'I had made my mind up anyway but there wasn’t much time to think about it.
'I would do anything for Billy but I never thought I’d be the only match for a transplant ahead of his family. It was a shock when they told me.'
The transplant took place in mid-February and both men are now fighting fit and happily sporting their fading scars.
The liver is the only organ in the body capable of regeneration, and in just three months Mr Gumble’s liver has re-grown.
Live donors almost always come from a family member and are normally from adult to child.
Mr Sewell said: 'I will never forget what Luke has done. We are now even closer than ever.
'I was really on my way out. I discovered just how near I had been to death after I came round.
'The doctors said my old liver was virtually lifeless. I was running on empty when Luke came to my rescue. I had run out of time. He was my only hope.'