Stranger donates piece of his liver to save baby girl’s life

Joe Gilvary, one of about 50 dual donors nationwide, had the opportunity to meet 1-year-old Katelyn Kutscher

Joe Gilvary, one of about 50 dual donors nationwide, had the opportunity to meet 1-year-old Katelyn Kutscher. (Cleveland Clinic News Service)

More than 12,000 people are waiting for a lifesaving liver transplant.

One-year-old Katelyn Kutscher was one of them -- until a complete stranger gave a piece of himself to save her life.

“It was, I mean, amazing that somebody we didn’t even know would give a piece of their body to make sure my kid lives, to make sure I get to see her grow up,” said Brittany Kutscher, Katelyn’s mother.

Katelyn was born with biliary atresia, a disease in which bile buildup in the liver eventually causes it to fail. Doctors at Cleveland Clinic listed Katelyn for a liver transplant when she was just 5 months old.

“Her size was so small,” said Koji Hashimoto, M.D., Ph.D., a liver transplant surgeon at Cleveland Clinic. “It wasn’t easy to find an organ donor to fit her body size, because most of the donors are adults. We don’t have many pediatric donors.”

That’s when Joe Gilvary, 59, stepped in -- anonymously -- to help a total stranger by donating a small piece of his liver.

“It’s one of the most powerfully emotional things,” Gilvary said.

But this isn’t the first time Gilvary has saved a life. He donated a kidney one year earlier to save a man he didn’t know, making him one of about 50 dual donors nationwide.

“I get more. It happened with the kidney and it’s happened now,” said Gilvary. “I get more than I gave.”

Six to eight weeks after surgery, Gilvary’s liver regenerated to full size. He’s now fully recovered, and Katelyn is thriving.

“She’s doing awesome," Kutscher said. “She’s starting to crawl, and she can sit up and she’s starting to, you know, say some words and it’s just awesome seeing, seeing her finally getting stronger.”

In October, Gilvary had the opportunity to meet Katelyn and her family for the first time -- a moment Kutscher will never forget.

“We’ll never be able to repay him for what he did, even though he always says he got more out of it than we did,” Kutscher said.