A new lease on life for Mayo's first lung & liver transplant recipient.

Talia Milavetz
Updated: October 24, 2019 11:37 AM
Created: October 21, 2019 09:51 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- More than 113,000 people are on the waiting list for a lifesaving organ transplant. It’s a difficult wait, one Matthew Pasick knows all too well. By all accounts, Matthew Pasick has lived a normal life.

“Great childhood, great everything. Married had two kids. Fairytale,” said Pasick.


He spent free time golfing and working on his family farmhouse. But in 2015, a typical day of yard work turned into a life-changing moment.

"I was on the ground, just moving materials back and forth. I’d do a couple of things and all of a sudden I was winded. It was uncharacteristic. I could do that stuff with no problem at all," he said.

He went to check it out, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, near his home at the time.

"It was nonalcoholic cirrhosis of the liver brought on by a very orphan disease not widely known called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency,” he said.

A disease that is genetic.

"From day one it was there. But we didn't know when it was gonna surface," he said.

Six months later he felt even more symptoms.

"It was fatigue, heavier breath," he said.

It had spread to his lungs. The only solution, a double lung liver transplant, was surgery so rare only 114 had ever been performed in the United States according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

UNC was unable to perform his surgery, so Pasick came to Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

"We haven't encountered someone that needed a similar surgery. There's just a handful of these surgeries every year," said Dr. Richard Daly, Surgical Director of Heart and Lung Transplantation at Mayo Clinic.

Dr. Daly explained the gravity of the procedure.

"The lung transplant would be equivalent to having a big open heart surgery. The liver transplant is a big abdominal surgery. That is a lot of surgery for one person to have," he said.

But for Pasick, it was the only option. He spent a year and a half going back and forth from North Carolina to Rochester for tests to stay on the list for the United Network for Organ Sharing.

"I was on higher oxygen at home. I had to take portable oxygen on the airplane. Whatever the tests and numbers we were looking at they didn't like. They pretty much told me in that November visit you're not going home,” said Pasick.

His wife, son, and daughter would rotate staying with him at Mayo.

“You don't want to interrupt everybody's life. It took its toll. My daughter would come in when she could. But then she got pregnant so she was out of the picture," he said.

He knew he needed to live to meet his future grandchild, no matter how long it took to find a donor.

"Being the stubborn mule that I am I look at it as a personal challenge. That I'm never going to give up hope. There's so much for me to live for,” he said.

The search was complicated by his height at 6’6.

"Both lungs and the liver had to be from the same donor. They had to be the same size. 6’4 or better and have the lungs in the 90% or better,” he said.

Months and months passed.

"The wait itself each and every day at the end of the day it’s like oh it didn't happen today. Well, it is going to happen tomorrow. You keep telling yourself that,” he said.

It wasn’t always easy.

"The progression and the degradation of it were so quickly in the last month and a half or two that simply walking in the hallways was very laborious,” he said.

But finally, after 169 days, a match was found.

"Really takes some luck that he could hang on long enough for this to be able to happen.  When we listed him we looked at his height and we thought we don't know if we're ever going to get a chance. We just don't know. He could get too sick too fast. We got fortunate," said Dr. Daly.

Pasick said he remembers the day vividly.

"They said ‘Matt, good news. We found a donor. The organs are gonna be on the way.’ The weight came off. It was a total transition. Now we've got an endgame," he said.

Two separate teams of 20 worked together, one on his lungs and the other on his liver.

“It was lung out, lung in. Lung out, lung in. Liver out, liver in. That took over 12 hours,” he said.

On May 7 of this year, he became the first-ever double lung liver transplant recipient at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and the state of Minnesota.

"Right after the surgery when he is doing well and recovering that's sort of a relief because there are so many worries as the surgeon going into a big operation and to see him better and getting up that was great,” said Dr. Daly.

Once out of the operating room, he began healing quickly and was even strong enough to move back home at the end of July.

"What they're doing now with organ donation and with organ transplant is absolutely mind-blowing in my opinion. So many people get a second bite at the apple. And I'm living proof," said Pasick.

In September, he got to meet his new baby grandson, Henry.

"Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. I didn’t,” he said.

For many people like Pasick, transplants are the only option. 

According to Donate Life, each day an estimated 22 people die waiting for a transplant. If you are interested in registering to become an organ donor, click here.

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