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Minnesota woman's liver donation saves her dad's life

The 23-year-old Alexandria, Minnesota, graduate is thankful she was able to be a living donor as a living donor was the only option to save her father.

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Molly Maudal, 23, and her father, Mike Maudal, stopped for a photo while on a walk on the transplant floor at Mayo Clinic in June. Mike had a liver transplant on June 11 with Molly as the living donor. (Contributed photo)
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ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — When Molly Maudal had surgery June 11 to remove over half of her liver, she had a 1 in 300 chance of dying. That’s a greater chance than if she had gone skydiving, she said.

But it didn’t really matter as the risk was worth the reward. She became a living donor for her father, Mike Maudal.

Mike, a retired loan officer from Carlos, Minnesota, needed a liver transplant because his liver was dying — he was dying. He had been diagnosed with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, an aggressive and serious form of liver disease.

Molly, 23, an occupational therapist at Glacial Ridge Health System in Glenwood, Minnesota, made the decision to be a living donor for her dad after being told his only chance of surviving was to find a living donor.

“Being a living liver donor was extremely rewarding,” said Molly. “Being able to see my dad’s energy levels improve, his personality and sense of humor come back, and his color and overall appearance of wellness progress — it’s pretty hard to top that.”

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Mike Maudal, being pushed in a wheelchair by his wife, Cindy Maudal, and his daughter, Molly, Maudal, wearing "Liver buddies for life" shirts, are pictured at a follow-up appointment at Mayo Clinic shortly after they were discharged. Mike had a liver transplant with Molly as his living donor. (Contributed photo)

Molly added that the best part of being a living donor is that she’s been able to see the improvements firsthand being with her dad nearly every day since the transplant.

“It’s beautiful giving the gift of life,” she said.

Diagnosis, and search for a donor

The cause of Mike’s liver disease, known as NASH, is not really known. According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors include obesity, gastric bypass surgery, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, none of which he had. Over time, inflammation and scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) can occur, which is what happened in Mike’s case, and eventually a transplant is needed.

Mike’s health issues started back in 2015 with a routine physical. He had learned years prior that he had fatty liver disease, but it was left untreated. In early 2016, he was scheduled for an appointment at Mayo Clinic to address the issues discovered at his physical. Two and a half days before that appointment, he had an esophageal bleed. It was then that his diagnosis of NASH was confirmed. He then continued to doctor regularly at Mayo for management of the disease.

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Regardless of what was being done, Mike was told that he was in the end stage of NASH and that he needed a transplant.

Although Mike was on the transplant list, his best case of survival was to find a living donor. As sick as he was, he wasn’t moving up the transplant list fast enough. If he had had cancer of the liver, his climb to the top would have been much faster, he said.

Cindy Maudal, Molly’s mom and Mike’s wife, said that it is up to families to find a living donor and that there isn’t a donor registry to choose living donors from. She also noted that there are no medical costs incurred being a living donor. She said the recipient covers all testing and medical costs associated with the transplant.

The family had previously started the search for a living donor and had some prospects, but in the end, they were not eligible. There are certain criteria a living donor must meet, along with going through extensive testing.

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The Maudal family, from left, Molly, Mike and Cindy, pictured on their farm in Carlos. (Celeste Edenloff / Alexandria Echo Press)

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Cindy had started the process but found out she wasn’t eligible because of the size of each lobe of her liver. If she had had one lobe removed, the other lobe wasn’t big enough to sustain life until it regenerated. If she kept the bigger lobe, the smaller lobe wasn’t big enough for Mike to live.

In Molly’s case, her right lobe made up 58% of her liver while the left made up 42%. She was able to donate the right, larger half to her father and live with the smaller half until it regenerated back to its original size. In one week, the livers in both Mike and Molly had regenerated to about 93%.

Molly and Mike each now have a full-sized liver, but unlike most people, it is made up of only one lobe.

More than 12,000 people are waiting for a liver transplant, according to the Mayo Clinic, which performs living donor transplants for both liver and kidney patients. In fact, according to its website, Mayo Clinic has one of the largest living donor kidney transplants programs in the U.S. Living donor transplantation often offers people an attractive alternative to waiting for a deceased donor organ. Patients may have a shorter waiting period and fewer complications with a living donor transplant, according to the website. The clinic has performed live liver transplants since 2000.

God’s handiwork

Mike and Molly had their surgeries at Mayo Clinic on June 11. Molly was in the hospital for six days, while her dad was in for seven. He got out the Friday before Father’s Day.

“It was a pretty good Father’s Day,” said Mike, saying the gift his daughter gave him was pretty special.

Cindy shared a fun little fact about that day, but it was something that had happened 24 years prior. She said it was God at work.

“Twenty four years ago on June 11, I found out I was pregnant with Molly, our only child,” she said, noting that they had learned they were giving life to someone. With tears in her eyes, she looked at her daughter and said, “And now, you’re giving dad his life back.”

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As they were leaving the house they rented in Rochester following a transplant surgery at Mayo Clinic, Mike Maudal and his daughter, Molly, lift their arms in excitement as they are headed back to Carlos. Molly donated more than half her liver to her father. (Contributed photo)

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects lead and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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