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Son-in-law donates portion of liver to save bride's father

WISN Milwaukee logo WISN Milwaukee 7/27/2017
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One Boston family feels extraordinarily lucky now that their father and husband is healthy again. A liver donation saved his life, and the donor is now literally part of the family.

Last summer, Bob Mulkern, a father of three, was diagnosed with liver cancer and liver disease.

"Within six months, I started to feel drained," Mulkern said.

Dr. Parsia Vagefi at Mass General Hospital treated Mulkern's cancer with radiation, but he had a unique case.

"Really, his only option was to get a liver transplant from a living donor," Vagefi said.

Mulkern's immediate family -- wife, two sons and daughter, Amanda -- were all ruled out as donors. Then, Amanda's fiance, Nick Johnas, stepped up.

"I just couldn't live the rest of my life knowing that I could've done something," Johnas said.

Testing showed Johnas was a match, and in February, Dr. Vagefi took 60 percent of his liver and transplanted it into Mulkern. Those portions are now regenerating to become exactly the right size for each man.

"Within the first year, it does most of its growing and it'll come up to the size that's needed for Bob. Bob's body has a magical way of knowing how much liver is needed, and the same for Nick," Vagefi said.

Less than three months later, both men were healthy enough to hit the dance floor at Nick and Amanda's wedding. For Mulkern, those moments were incredibly precious.

"She's always been my princess, and we have our whole future as a family to look forward to, and I'm really looking forward to it," Mulkern said.

Mulkern is looking forward to it with a sense of humor.

"I have to side with Nick. Amanda's just going to have to sit there and give me a stare," Mulkern said.

"And I don't have to buy a father's day gift for 20 years or so," Johnas said.

Living liver donations are complex and not without risk for the donor. But now, Mulkern is cancer-free and showing no signs of liver disease.

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