Double Live-Donor Transplant Set

The medicine that's been battling 21-year-old Marti Kleven's autoimmune hepatitis for five years isn't working well anymore, and the resulting liver woes are causing her kidneys to fail.

But family members are giving of themselves, quite literally, to try to help.

Kleven is slated for a rare, potentially life-saving double live-donor transplant Wednesday.

Her uncle, David Heyden, will donate part of his liver. Her cousin, Dawnica King, will donate a kidney.

Kleven and her family moved from their Iowa home to Massachusetts recently to be close to the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass., where the surgery will be performed.

Adding to the drama is Kleven's engagement to her high school sweetheart, who will be at her side on Wednesday before being sent to Georgia later in the week for training for an upcoming tour in Iraq. He's already served a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Dr. Elizabeth Pomfret, who heads the Adult Live Donor Liver Transplant unit at Lahey and will head the surgery team, explains to The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith that four teams of doctors will be working out of three operating rooms throughout the day to remove King's kidney, remove part of Heyden's liver and transplant both into Kleven.

"Live-donor liver transplantation between adults is something that's relatively recent in the United States," Pomfret notes. "It's been happening since about 1996, but really not until '98 has it really taken off. And a combined simultaneous live donor liver and live donor kidney transplant is extremely rare. Having a combined transplant with deceased donors is not particularly uncommon."

Kleven says she learned of the gift her uncle and cousin will give at Christmastime. "They had actually done the testing without my knowledge and just told me that they had sent the blood work in. So it was more of a surprise than anything," she told Smith. "I never asked. They volunteered."

Heyden says, "We talked as a family and decided that it would be very difficult to ask for a donor. So we decided it would be best if we just volunteered.

"I think it's wonderful that they can do the operation. It will really improve her quality of life and it's just great."

King says she didn't hesitate when told of the idea of family members donating: "I said I would love to do that, also."

What about the wedding? "That's still in the planning," Kleven responded. "It's kind of taken a backseat to everything right now. As much as I want to plan everything, I have to deal with one thing at a time."

Pomfret points out that time is of the essence, calling it "surgery of huge magnitude. …If Marti doesn't eventually get a liver transplant, she will die. …This is extremely serious, as you can imagine. And if she has a successful outcome tomorrow, which we certainly are anticipating, then she can look forward to a very happy, long life and hopefully a nice wedding in May."

If you'd like to help Kleven's family defray her medical costs, you could send contributions to:
Marti Kleven Benefit
c/o Wells Fargo Bank
10 N. Washington Ave.
Mason City, IA 50401