High-Risk Liver & Valve Transplant Surgery a Success Thanks to U Doctors


Joe Yanez was a high school junior in 1966 when he suffered an appendicitis attack. He was taken to the hospital unconscious and when he awakened, Yanez learned his attack was so serious he needed a blood transfusion.

Although he felt fine after the transfusion, he learned thirty years later when he became seriously ill that the transfusion caused him to develop hepatitis C. “Back then, they didn’t know what they know today about testing blood, and the blood ended up being bad,” Yanez says. The disease damaged his liver so extensively that his only hope was a liver transplant. To complicate matters even more, Yanez developed heart valve disease and needed a new valve in addition to a liver.

His doctors in Colorado were unable to perform such a high-risk surgery, so Yanez found his way to University of Utah Health where Robin Kim, MD, associate professor of surgery and surgical director of the Liver Transplant Program, and Craig Selzman, MD, associate professor of surgery and surgical director of the Heart Transplant Program, agreed to take the case.

“To transplant a liver and do a valve transplant at the same time is extremely rare,” says Kim. So rare, in fact, that Yanez would become only the tenth person in the world to undergo a liver/valve transplant. He would also be the first person in the world to receive the surgery using a minimally invasive technique for the heart valve portion. Kim explains, “Few institutions in the world are capable of doing a surgery like this, and adding in a newer technique makes this truly unprecedented.”

The surgery was performed on February 16, 2012 and Yanez came through well. He spent twenty days in the hospital and then continued his recuperation at home, with ongoing outpatient therapy and medical care.

Yanez knew he would die without a transplant and says he’s truly thankful to Kim and Selzman, along with the entire medical team at U of U Health for trying a new procedure and saving his life. “I wanted to be here for my family, for my grandchildren.”

He’s hoping to return to the active lifestyle he once enjoyed, which included skiing, basketball, and running. “I really do feel great, and I’m getting better each day. I credit my doctors and the staff for the fact that I’m still here. I’m so grateful.”

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