Inside the Story: Liver transplant heals a body and a relationship

Inside the Story: Liver transplant heals a body and a relationship (Photo provided by Jared Saunders)

(KUTV) It's a first in Utah--a son donates part of his liver to his mother.

And it's only the third liver transplant the University of Utah Hospital has ever done--and the first between a male and a female.

But these stats are not the only things that make this procedure unique. It involves a life-changing journey for both mother and son.

In 1999, Susan Saunders, 66, was diagnosed with a deadly liver disease, and was given only five years to live.

It wasn't until last year when it became a life or death situation.

"The transplant was my only option," said Susan.

Her son Jared Saunders, 42, was living in Chicago running a beer business. He went to Chicago in 1997 to get away from Utah, and in some ways, his own family.

"It was around being gay in a very Mormon family, for the most part," said Jared. "Also, I went through a lot of depression, a lot of sadness."

But when Jared heard about his mother's need for a liver, he didn't hesitate to be tested. He gave up drinking, and went on a strict diet and workout plan. He lost 40 pounds.

"I was really worried about maybe my liver was shot after owning a beer store for a while," Jared laughed.

"He knew I was in trouble," said Susan. "He knew I would not survive and he stepped up to the plate and made this decision."

Jared ended up being a perfect match for his mom. He started a video blog to record his reactions and thoughts on donating most of his liver, hoping that one day his messages could help another donor.

"I want people to know what it takes to go through this," he said. "It's not easy. It's the most difficult thing I've ever done. It's the most painful thing I've ever done."

The surgeries for the transplant took an entire day. Doctors couldn't have asked for a better outcome in the procedures.

"I feel so good," said Jared. "I never felt this good--in my head, in my heart, in my body, in everything. It's just amazing."

Doctors also noticed that this was much more than just a transplant operation.

"We are learning there is a huge emotional growth and a family development that has occurred that really we didn't expect," said Dr. Robin Kim with University of Utah Hospital.

The surgery seemed to not only heal a body, but a relationship.

"The difference it's made is more than just keeping Mom alive," said Jared.

"I didn't know that I was judgmental before, but I was," said Susan. "And none of that matters anymore. He's my son. I'm his mom."

The recovery is far from over for the Saunders.

Jared is back in Chicago, but still plans on coming back to Utah often to get checked out.

Susan is out of the hospital, but must return on a monthly basis for check ups.

The two hope their story will inspire others who are thinking about organ donation.

For Jared's video blog, visit his website and Facebook page.