Living Donor Liver Transplant Foundation


Living Donor Liver Transplant Recipient Dave Galbenski

In 2013, Dave Galbenski learned that he had primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a rare autoimmune disease that affects the liver.

When his condition had advanced to the point where he needed a liver transplant, his brother-in-law, Mark Dybis, volunteered for a living donor liver transplant, an advanced procedure where a portion of the donor liver is implanted into the recipient. In November 2019, Mark donated his left liver lobe to Dave at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. 

Given the unique regenerative properties of the liver, it quickly grows back in both.

Henry Ford Health System is an amazing transplant center. I know that anyone who goes through the transplant experience will have their chance at the best possible outcome to live an amazing life going forward.” – Dave Galbenski

*Photos of Dave by Riva Sayegh-McCullen for Henry Ford Health System

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It was a long treatment journey. In 2010, I had some routine blood work that showed some elevated liver enzymes. It took a few years before I was diagnosed via a liver biopsy, and I got the news the day after I ran the 2013 Detroit Free Press Marathon.

During my initial testing, the only symptom I had was itchy skin, particularly when I exercised. Since I was a runner, it was annoying, but not debilitating. As the disease progressed, the itching intensified. I started feeling fatigued, lost some weight, had jaundiced skin and eyes, and a cholangitis attack.

No. And I was definitely shocked to learn that I had PSC. I was only in my early 40s at that point, and there’s no treatment other than transplant. It’s a tough diagnosis.

It was February 14, 2019. Valentine’s Day, but I would also learn when I got my transplant list approval letter that it was National Organ Donor Day. I’m a very faith-filled person, and I viewed this as a message from God.

They told me there were two options once you’re on the transplant list. Deceased donor or living donor partial liver. We talked about the benefits of living donor. You can schedule it when both the donor and you are available, instead of waiting for a liver. The great thing is, by going the liver donor route, it frees up another organ for someone else who’s on the waitlist.

Yes, a family member told me. Months later, Mark was approved to be my donor and told us. I can’t even describe the emotions I felt at that point. Incredible joy and tears over this huge gift. It was tremendous.

We received such strong support. It was a collaborative effort, starting with Lynn. She was the key caregiver who oversaw everything, including assembling the team of family members who were going to be our support in various areas. Since Lynn and I also ran a business together, she had to do double duty there.

I created a vision board for the next year, what it would look like, including some key milestones. I also built a music playlist of songs that were really meaningful to me. These helped me to shape my mind and energy for the surgery and recovery.

It was right before Thanksgiving in 2019. We all met early, Mark and I and our families. There was so much love in that room. I said a prayer before I went in, putting myself at peace, putting it in God’s hands, but also, first and foremost, hoping everything would go well for Mark.

It was amazing to see the number of skilled professionals in the operating room. Everyone was focused, but kind and accommodating. They understand what patients are going through and help support us there, but they also have an intense focus to get it right.

Soon after, my eye and skin tone changed dramatically. I felt more alive, and pretty soon into my recovery, my liver function improved.

COVID-19 hit while Mark and I were still going through recovery, so that was a challenge, since we couldn’t see family. Although we were able to do a virtual Thanksgiving in 2020, celebrating the holiday and our 1-year living donor transplant anniversary. And now that things are opening up, Lynn and I just recently went to see our daughter, Sarah, graduate from the University of Notre Dame, and the entire family was able to be there. Without the living donor transplant, I might not have been there. I’m so grateful for Mark’s gift, which created opportunities for me to experience all of these special moments.

Yes. After my recovery, I really didn’t have any limitations. In fact, in the fall of 2020, I ran the virtual Detroit Free Press Half Marathon, in honor of Mark. I ran it through the Grosse Pointes, and spelled out as best I could via GPS, ‘Be a Liver Donor.’ Mark and I also participated virtually in this year’s Transplant Games of America, an Olympic-style competition hosted by the Transplant Life Foundation. This is a great event that encourages building physical fitness post-transplant, while honoring living donors and donor families. I’ve also started training for the 2021 half marathon to raise funds for living donor liver transplant awareness.

I saw my Henry Ford team pretty regularly for follow-ups right after the liver transplant, and they still monitor me through labs, MRIs and blood work. But other than this and some twice daily medications, my life is pretty much back to normal.

I just have so much gratitude for the miracle. I’m grateful for Mark, my family, all of my caregivers, and for the pioneers that have made living donor transplant possible over the decades. Henry Ford Health System is an amazing transplant center. I know that anyone who goes through the transplant experience will have the chance at the best possible outcome to live an amazing life going forward.

We have gathered dozens of stories of living donor liver transplant recipients and their donors from around the country.  These stories will touch your heart and help you understand how this procedure is helping save lives every day. 

Jennilynne Barters donated a part of her liver to her baby daughter, Ellieanna.

Gina Vintalore became a living donor for her cousin, Lou.

Steve gave the gift of life and a happy future to his sister, Nicola.