Live Organ Donations Getting Safer

Initially, it seemed like a great idea.

"I volunteered with great enthusiasm at the beginning," says David Burke.

A perfect match for his ailing brother Stephen, David Burke agreed to become a live liver donor, giving about 60 percent of his own liver to Stephen to save his life.

"I worry about him," says Stephen Burke. "Of course with all surgery something can go wrong."

The more David learned, the more he started to worry too. Live organ donation is a relatively new and dangerous procedure. Of more than 3,000 liver transplants this year, only 188 were from live donors.

But as CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, one thing reassured David. The hospital, Boston's Lahey Clinic, is the only place in the country experimenting with


Live liver donor surgery carries a high degree of risk especially to the donor who is otherwise healthy. But in this case the Burke brothers will benefit from cutting edge 3-D technology that will allow the surgeons to completely map out the liver and plan the surgery before even heading to the operating room.

It's a powerful scanning device that gives doctors a highly precise look at the anatomy of an organ: arteries, blood vessels and all.

"This particular technology unravels the individual patients liver to such an extent that surgeons can make," says Dr. Christoph Wald. "Extremely well informed decisions as to how to operate and who to operate on."

During the Burke brothers' surgery, Dr. Elizabeth Pomfret plastered images of both men's livers on the operating room walls. She had already studied them in detail before picking up a scalpel. Now she knows exactly where to cut.

"It adds a confidence level and a comfort level that you clearly want to have as a surgeon performing this operation," says Pomfret.

An estimated 20,000 Americans need liver transplants, and there are only 5,000 cadaver donors a year. The hope is this technology could create a larger pool of living donors by eliminating the guesswork.

"Probably the most important thing we learn from the images is being able to get a better assessment of risk for the donor," says Pomfret.

It's clear the new technology has made a difference by the time a piece of David's liver is rushed to his waiting brother Stephen. Making an otherwise terrifying operation as risk free as it could be.