Northwestern Medicine

A New Liver, Love and Life

Northwestern Memorial Hospital February 13, 2013

Woman thankful for a new life three years after liver transplant

CHICAGO, IL – Seven years ago, 62-year-old Margot Hamel-Christensen thought she was living a life right out of a best-selling novel. After searching numerous reunion websites, she came across her high school sweetheart's name and number. Margot sent him a note, and not long after, he responded. Margot and Ray met once again and picked up right where they left off in high school. Their relationship blossomed and they were soon engaged.  

In April of 2009, Margot accompanied Ray to his orthopedic doctor appointment. During the appointment, Ray's doctor commented that Margot’s skin was yellowing and that she was beginning to show signs of jaundice, a sign of an advanced liver disease, and often times liver cancer or hepatitis. He advised her to see a physician immediately.  

Everything seemed to change in a blink of an eye. Margot's symptoms worsened, so she went to the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Emergency Department. It was there she met Northwestern Medicine® hepatologist Daniel Ganger, MD, who diagnosed her with primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), a rare and serious liver disease that destroys the liver ducts.  

"I was devastated; Ray and I were just starting our lives together,” said Margot. “I didn't understand how this could happen to someone like me, who doesn't drink and is very healthy, I did everything right, ate a lot of vegetables, stayed away from junk food and watched my weight.”   The cause of PBC is unknown, but is thought to be an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to malfunction and turn on itself. It is a silent disease that takes a long time to develop and affects different people in many different ways.  

“Most patients initially have few or no symptoms for a period of time and some live with a benign form of the illness with little or no discomfort,” explained Ganger, who is also an associate professor of medicine and surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “The slow and progressive inflammatory destruction of the liver's bile ducts leads to irreversible liver scarring, called cirrhosis, liver failure, and these patients will be in need for a liver transplant.”  

Ganger was there from the very beginning to comfort Margot and tailor a treatment plan that was best for her individual needs. He gave her medications to try to slow down the advancement of the disease.  

As Margot’s symptoms worsened, she found herself making frequent trips to the hospital. She went through numerous X-rays, scans and blood tests and as the disease progressed, her survival time was shortening.  

“Medical treatment was no longer controlling Margot’s disease, we knew she needed a transplant soon; her liver was failing,” said Ganger. Within a short period of time after being placed on the liver transplant list, Margot soon received the call she had been waiting for–there was a liver donor who matched her physical size and blood type. The very day she got the call was the six year anniversary of her mother’s death. Margot says she knew her mother was watching over and everything would turn out fine.  

“Three years after my liver transplant, I feel truly blessed to have been given a second chance where I am able to continue living every day filled with all the joys of life,” said Margot.  

Northwestern Medicine is the shared vision that joins Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in a collaborative effort to transform medicine through quality healthcare, academic excellence and scientific discovery.  

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