Son gives portion of liver to save father’s life
CANFIELD — Dave Bianco, 63, of Canfield, received a life-saving liver transplant last month. The donor — his son, David, 33.
Bianco is walking unassisted, in good spirits and progressing well. He said his son gave him a new lease on life, literally.
“There was an outpouring of potential donors, however one stood out, my son David — my hero. Through the grace of God, he was a perfect match and wanted to do this for me in the worst way. It was all worth it.”
The elder Bianco has worked for 40 years with Industrial Waste Control and Ground Tech Inc., both of Youngstown. He was on a job site in Missouri when his heart went out of rhythm. Bianco flew home.
His general practitioner sent him to the hospital, where it was discovered that his thyroid was overactive. At the same time, the medical staff discovered abnormalities in his liver enzymes. His gastrointestinal doctor sent Bianco to the Cleveland Clinic, where he was diagnosed with cancer of the liver.
Bianco said he asked his gastrointestinal doctor what they were going to do. The answer: “Nothing. We need the cancer to grow.” It wasn’t large enough yet to get him on the list for a transplant.
Testing took place over the next four months to see if son David, also of Canfield, was a compatible donor.
“There was a huge time crunch after my father’s cancer diagnosis,” David said. “If the cancer progressed too quickly, my father would have been taken off the list for a donor.”
However, they also needed the cancer to grow large enough for his father to be put on the list for a transplant.
“It was a balancing act and a huge timing issue. There was a lot of waiting,” David said.
Within two months, the tumor grew to the optimal size, which allowed his father to be put on the transplant list.
WAITING FOR WORD
Over three days at the Cleveland Clinic, David underwent a variety of procedures to discover if he could be his father’s living donor. The testing involved taking 50 vials of blood, undergoing an MRI, having a CT scan and finally a needle biopsy of the liver, which gave the doctors the necessary core sample.
When the testing was finished, his donor advocate, Katey Hellickson, informed David that he was an acceptable donor for his father.
“I was out biking when I received the news, and I was elated, very happy,” David said. “I was nervous up until the point of knowing I would be a perfect match.”
The doctors told David to train like he was in a marathon to be in the best shape possible for the surgery, “so I biked 14 miles every day.”
His father said, “My son never slowed down through the whole process.”
The liver transplant was scheduled for Aug. 3. David’s surgery lasted seven hours while his father’s surgery took 14. The surgeons extracted 40 percent of David’s liver, the entire left lobe, which is the ideal piece to take. The liver is the only organ in the body that is capable of regrowing and will regrow in 16 weeks to 90 percent in both the donor and the recipient.
The elder Bianco said his surgical team was incredible. It included surgeons, hepatologist, doctoral fellows, residents and professional assistants. Following the surgery, members of his team visited him every day to observe how he was progressing.
Son David came home in six days while his father was home in 17 days.
Dave’s daughter, JoVanna, took a leave of absence from her job in Columbus to be her brother’s caregiver during his hospitalization. Dave’s wife, JoAnn, has been her husband’s caregiver through the entire journey. She was the driver for both her husband and her son.
“I know the Cleveland Clinic like the back of my hand,” she said.
Dave said, “She never left my side for the entire 17 days I was in the clinic.”
David returned to working remotely at his job for Berk Enterprises of Warren four weeks following surgery. Dave should be able to return to working remotely at around eight weeks following surgery.
“The support shown by my friends and family locally, nationally and worldwide has been overwhelming,” Dave said. “I did not realize how many people my life has impacted over the years and the relationships I have developed. If not through my faith in God and the trust I put in him, I would not have been able to do this.
“Thanks friends and family for all the prayers and support. Without you I could not have done this,” he said.
Dr. Koji Hashimoto, director of liver transplantation at the Cleveland Clinic, was one of the surgeons who operated on Bianco. “Dave Bianco’s surgery was a success; he did very well,” Hashimoto said.
There are two types of liver transplants, he said. The first is referred to as the deceased organ transplant, when the liver is taken from someone who died and is transplanted into a patient with liver failure.
The second is the living donor transplant, in which a portion of the liver is taken from a healthy living donor and transplanted into a recipient. A living donor increases the chances for patients who need a transplant to receive it.
“There are 14,000 people listed every year on the National Liver Transplant list. Many people are waiting,” Hashimoto said.
Caroline Auger, media representative at the Cleveland Clinic, said that in 2021, the Clinic’s liver transplant program was the largest in the United States. In 2021, the clinic’s liver transplant program in Ohio completed 210 liver transplants, which is the highest number in the history of the program.
Also in 2021, the hospital’s main campus completed 33 living-donor liver transplants, which were done laparoscopically. The clinic is one of the few hospitals in the world to offer that minimally invasive procedure, which is performed with small incisions.
What are they looking forward to getting back to? David said he wants to get back on his bicycle and ride, while his father said he just wants to drive and “do what I want to do.”
“I have a 33-year-old liver in me, I feel good and can’t wait to get to rehab and back to my normal life,” he said.