(1/23/07 - KTRK/HOUSTON) -- State Senator Mario Gallegos had a liver transplant last week. He's still recovering at St. Luke's hospital and doing well. Some have asked how he could have gotten a transplant so quickly, just 19 days after going on the transplant list.
Senator Gallegos' doctor explained just how the transplant list works. Senator Gallegos knew he was in trouble. He had been drinking and had cirrhosis of the liver. And even though he had quit drinking, the damage had been done. He needed a liver transplant.
"That's been established and it's been this way for 10 years," said Gallegos' physician, Dr. Joseph Galati. "You have to have six months of sobriety before you even get evaluated for transplant."
Dr. Galati says even after a patient is placed on the liver transplant waiting list, they must continue in relapse prevention program like alcoholics anonymous. And they have to sign a contract promising they will.
"We have had patients over the years who did not comply with that and they're taken off the list," he said.
A third of the people waiting for a liver transplant die before they can get a match because there aren't enough organs. To even get on the transplant list a person is evaluated by a transplant team made of liver specialists, surgeons, social workers, and dietitians. Ironically, Gallegos waited just weeks, not months or years. But Dr. Galati says it was done by the numbers. Who gets a liver first is based on medical test results. People are actually given a number called the meld score, to show how sick they are.
"It's a calculated number and there's no fudging of the number," said Dr. Galati. "With the senator, he had a high meld score his was the highest in the area so he got the first liver appropriate for size and blood type."
Days after the transplant, his doctor says Senator Gallegos is doing well. "He was transferred out of the intensive care unit today, starting to eat and move around and going along as well as we could expect," said Dr. Galati. The average wait for a liver transplant varies by region. In Houston it's about six to eight months. On the west coast, it's much longer. Everything depends on people in the region, who are willing to donate their organs, and to tell their family that is their wish.