In a reversal of fates, a mom in upstate New York has thanked her eldest son for giving the gift of life back to her.
Brian Muscarella, 33, of Lake View donated a portion of his liver to his mother Diane Muscarella of Buffalo, after learning that she was waiting on a transplant list. Now fully recovered, the two are sharing their story.
"I wanted her to be around," Brian Muscarella told ABC News. "I'm getting married next year and I want her to experience grandchildren. I want her to be with all of us for a very long time."
Brian said he asked doctors to screen him to see if he could be his mother's liver donor, after he learned about her condition. Diane had been diagnosed with non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver in 2010 and was placed on a transplant list three years ago.
"She sat us all down as a group, my brother, father, and told us what she was going through and the process of what she was exploring for medical treatments," he recalled. "We visually noticed she started to get thinner, didn't have as much energy and was tired quite often. We kind of knew something was going on."
Diane Muscarella told her family that she had been placed on the transplant list and that doctors at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center had given her options for treatment. She was told that a living donor was an option and gave her pamphlets to pass out to family and friends who might consider helping.
"I just started googling liver donations and reading through the information she had and I felt like it was something that I could handle doing physically and emotionally," Brian Muscarella said, adding that he reached out to the living donor coordinators and later began the screening process. He eventually learned that he was a perfect match.
Dr. Abhinav Humar, chief of the division of transplantation in the department of surgery at UPMC, performed the transplant surgery on Brian and Diane Muscarella on Feb. 29, 2017.
Humar told ABC News that this was not the first time he's seen a son-to-mother procedure.
"We've also seen mother to son, brother to sister, cousin to cousin, co-worker to church member, to even complete strangers," the surgeon said.
Patients who have the most advanced liver disease are placed higher on the organ transplant waiting list, Humar explained. Because her condition was not as advanced as others, she likely would have been waiting a long time to get a transplant.
"Certainly in Diane's situation, she was not sick enough to be at the top of the list," Humar said. "She was having problems related to the liver disease and she was low priority."
But the longer a person has to wait, the worse the condition can become.
"About 20 to 25 percent of patients that we put on the waiting list essentially die before they get to the top of that list," he added. "Living donations are a direct gift from an individual."
Unlike with some other organ donations, the liver regenerates within a very short time. Usually within a few weeks, it can grow back to full-size both in the donor and in the recipient, Humar said.
Brian's surgery took nearly six hours and his mother's took about eight hours. Brian was able to go home after a week and both he and his mom suffered no complications, Humar said. Diane remained in Pittsburgh the entire month of March during her recovery.
A year later, Brian is back participating in the sport of triathlon and he's playing hockey again. Diane said it's been 15 years since she's felt this good.
"She's happier and livelier overall and back to the person we all knew before she started to feel sick," Brian said about his mom. "She was always very supportive growing up and encouraged not only me, but my brother to chase after the things that we wanted to do. I think this was a way to give her the support she needed when she was not at her best."
Diane cried when talking about her son's gift, saying it made her feel, "very overwhelmed."
"Being here for Mother's Day, it's a blessing, to be honest, that I thought I was not going be able to see," she said. "I was on a donor list three years ago and there aren't many people on that list who are here today."
Diane is looking forward to celebrating her son Mark's wedding in October and Brian's wedding in June 2019.
"I never thought I would see the day and I'm more excited that I'm going to be around for grandchildren," she added.