Nurse saves young boy's life by donating part of her liver

Makenzie Beach was a stranger to Logan Salva, the boy whose life she saved.

September 4, 2023, 4:58 PM

A 20-month-old boy with a rare genetic mutation was saved earlier this summer by a stranger who donated part of her liver to him.

Logan Salva was diagnosed shortly after his birth with Alagille syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes the bile ducts to be malformed, which can lead to liver failure, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Logan's family, who live in Ocala, Florida, learned that because of the condition, the toddler would need a liver transplant.

With the waiting list for a liver transplant estimated to be as long as five years, according to the NIH, Logan's family opted for a living-donor liver transplantation, in which part of a healthy person's liver is given to a person in need.

Because no one in Logan's family was a match, they ended up widening their search.

Soon after, Makenzie Beach, a registered nurse in Erie, Pennsylvania, learned she was a perfect match.

Though Beach had no connection to Logan, she said she had no doubts about becoming his donor.

"It was the right thing to do in my mind. It's what I would want someone to do for my family," Beach said in an interview shared by UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, where the transplant operation took place. "I was in a position with my health, and I have plenty of support, that I could do this, and I didn't see any reason why I wouldn't want to. A month of inconvenience seemed like a very, very small price to pay."

PHOTO: Makenzie Beach, a nurse at UPMC Hamot in Erie, donated part of her liver to 20-month-old Logan Salva.
Makenzie Beach, a nurse at UPMC Hamot in Erie, donated part of her liver to 20-month-old Logan Salva.
UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

Earlier this summer, Beach and Logan were scheduled to undergo the transplant, which then had to be delayed for a month after Logan contracted RSV.

"I was a nervous wreck because the first thing I thought was he's going to lose the donor," said Rasika Marletto-Salva, Logan's mom. "That one week of waiting to see what would happen was probably the longest week ever, and then we got the call and it said, 'Donor is willing to wait and postpone [the transplant] for a month.'"

Finally, on June 8, Beach and Logan underwent the transplant operation, which was deemed a success.

PHOTO: Logan Salva, a toddler from Florida, is pictured while recovering from a partial liver transplant.
Logan Salva, a toddler from Florida, is pictured while recovering from a partial liver transplant.
UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

Marletto-Salva said she and her husband immediately saw a difference in their son after the transplant.

The liver damage caused by Alagille syndrome can cause yellowish skin and eyes, which Marletto-Salva said went away once Logan had part of Beach's liver.

"It's incredible the change that we saw in him physically, just in his appearance and complexion and everything," Marletto-Salva said. "It happened within days, with his complexion, and that was just the beginning of it, and then he just started to fill out and look like a normal little kid again."

PHOTO: Logan Salva, a toddler from Florida, is pictured with his mom, Rasika Marletto-Salva.
Logan Salva, a toddler from Florida, is pictured with his mom, Rasika Marletto-Salva.
UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

According to Cleveland Clinic, only about 5% of people who undergo a liver transplant receive the organ from a living donor.

A living donor is able to donate just a part of their liver because the remaining liver regrows to its normal size and capacity within a few months. The donated portion of the liver also grows and restores normal liver function in the recipient.

Beach said she returned to work just a few weeks after the transplant. She said she had never undergone surgery prior to the transplant.

"I learned so much and it made me such a better nurse to go through this whole experience," Beach said. "To be a patient was a huge experience, and I needed that, and I'm so grateful for it."

On Aug. 30, Beach got to meet Logan for the first time.

She said she spoke with Logan and his parents on Zoom while she was in Pennsylvania and Logan and his family were at their home in Florida.

"He looks so good," Beach said upon seeing Logan for the first time. "He is beautiful."

Marletto-Salva thanked Beach for all she had done, especially for providing her son with a "wonderful liver."

PHOTO: Logan Salva, of Florida, is pictured while meeting his liver donor for the first time over Zoom
Logan Salva, of Florida, is pictured while meeting his liver donor for the first time over Zoom
ABC News

"Thank you for such a wonderful liver," she said. "His recovery, I know that it wouldn't have been as incredible as it's been if it wasn't for the fact that he had you to help him. So, again, thank you so much."

Both Beach and Marletto-Salva said they hope sharing their story helps make people more aware of the option of living donations for organs like livers and kidneys.

"What amazed me when I was sharing [Logan's] story, so many people really didn't know that you could donate a lobe of your liver," Marletto-Salva said. "So many people have no clue, and that's one thing that this journey, to me, it's more than just his story, it's the fact that it's helped us inform people as much as possible about the necessity and the importance of living donations."