YORK, Pa. — An operation for a liver transplant was underway Saturday morning at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia when Dr. Warren Maley called and said there was a problem.
The SUV transporting Maley, two other people and a preserved liver — on ice and inside a box — had left York Hospital on-time but slid on a slippery road in Lancaster County and crashed, rendering it inoperable, he said.
"We started exploring different options, having an ambulance take us, calling state police," Maley said.
That's when East Cocalico Township Police Sgt. Darrick Keppley, who had responded to the crash, stepped up.
"He right away said he would be glad to take us back," Maley said of Keppley. "That was a godsend, because it meant we only had an hour delay, instead of three or four hours if we had waited for someone to pick us up."
Liver unharmed in crash
Maley, along with an assistant and a Gift of Life employee, acquired the liver from a patient at York Hospital earlier that morning and then left for Thomas Jefferson in an SUV driven by a transport company contracted by Gift of Life, an organ donor organization, he said.
Citing patient confidentiality, Maley said he could not say very much about the donor or the recipient. Dan Carrigan, York Hospital spokesman, deferred questions about the case to Gift of Life.
Gift of Life's Randy Presant issued a statement Tuesday, saying it is Gift of Life's policy not to comment on specific cases to protect the privacy of their donors and recipients. Presant said in the news release that there are more than 5,600 area residents awaiting life-saving organ transplants, with more than 119,000 patients nationwide on the organ transplant waiting list. One organ and tissue donor can save and enhance the lives of up to 75 people.
Organs donated by elderly show good track record
Maley said the liver, once extracted from the donor, was triple-bagged in a preservative solution, surrounded by ice, placed in a Styrofoam cooler and then put inside a cardboard box.
The box did not sustain any damage, and no one in the vehicle suffered injuries in the crash, which occurred just before 9:30 a.m. Saturday near the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
"They were getting off Route 22 to get on the turnpike and the transport vehicle slid off the roadway," East Cocalico Township Police Sgt. Chris Progin said.
The SUV then struck a median, disabling the front tire, Progin said.
Maley then called the operating room at Thomas Jefferson, where the operation had already started.
"I think the whole OR was pretty shook up," both about the crash and the liver, he said.
Lights and siren
Leaving the Gift of Life employee with the driver to wait for a tow truck, Maley and his assistant piled in to Keppley's cruiser.
"I told the officer I wanted to sit up front because I didn't want to feel like a perpetrator," he said. So the assistant sat in the cramped backseat, along with the liver.
Progin said Keppley hit his lights and sirens and took the doctors and the liver onto the turnpike and then to the Schuylkill Expressway to the hospital.
"There are really two heroes in this story," Maley said, "and that's the donor and their family and the police officer who drove us down."
Maley said the operation was a success.
"Everything went very, very well and our recipient's doing well," he said.
The crash did give Maley some pause. In 25 years of overseeing organ transplants, he's never been in a crash.
"It's something I don't give much thought to," he said. "I guess it's something that we need to think more about."