When a Liver Transplant Becomes a Birthday Gift
On March 6, 2015, artist Lenard Hinds turned 64. He expected to spend the day at the Missouri History Museum, which was featuring some of his paintings in a special exhibit. Instead, he got a new liver.
“What a birthday present! It was just wonderful,” Hinds says.
Hinds’ liver problems began with hepatitis C, a liver infection that frequently causes no symptoms. In retrospect, he recalls drowsiness as the only sign that something was wrong.
So when he was admitted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in May 2013 with suspected pneumonia, his liver was the last thing on his mind. But tests revealed that his previously diagnosed hepatitis had caused cirrhosis—a condition in which the liver slowly deteriorates. Because of this, Hinds underwent some routine X-rays and blood tests, one of which raised the possibility of liver cancer. An MRI revealed a 2.2-centimeter tumor, which was indeed malignant, in his liver.
One option was to surgically remove the tumor along with a portion of Hinds’ liver. But his doctors were concerned that because of his cirrhosis, the procedure wouldn’t leave him with enough healthy liver.
They decided the best option was a liver transplant.
“In the past, it was thought that transplantation was not a good idea for people with liver cancer,” says Surendra Shenoy, MD, a Washington University transplant surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “But clinical research has shown that when the cancer is small enough and is caught before it has spread beyond the liver, people have much better outcomes with transplantation than with any other treatment option.”
While Hinds was on the transplant wait list, he underwent radiofrequency ablation, a treatment that uses electricity to destroy cells, to prevent his tumor from growing. He expected to wait a year or more for a liver. But just a few months after he was placed on the list, he got the call.
“Our wait times for a liver transplant are shorter than at many other institutions because we are an active center and have one of the largest transplant programs in the country,” Shenoy says. “We also offer transplants in certain situations where other institutions might hesitate. Our outcomes are very good.”
Shenoy and his team successfully performed Hinds’ operation, and his recovery was smooth.
“When they called me to say they had a liver for me, it was such a strange and wonderful feeling,” Hinds says. “Instead of talking about my art at the history museum, I was getting a welcome birthday gift.”
Jeffrey Crippin, MD, medical director of the liver transplant program at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center, says the hospital’s liver transplant program is successful because of its emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration.
“It’s all about the team,” he says. “We see patients who have incredibly complex health problems. It’s absolutely impossible for one physician to have all the expertise required for effective treatment. Specialists in medicine, surgery and radiology, along with nurses, administrative assistants, financial coordinators, social workers, pharmacists and psychologists, all work together to provide the best possible care.”
At age 65, Hinds continues to make his living as an artist. For his next project, he’s planning to create a Norman Rockwell-inspired calendar.
“Before we treated Mr. Hinds, I didn’t know anything about his talents,” Crippin says. “When he came into the office for a follow-up visit last fall, I asked him the questions I normally ask our patients: ‘Are things back to normal? Are you doing the things you like to do?’ He said he was and then showed me his website. I was overwhelmed—his paintings were spectacular. This is a man with incredible talent. His story is a great example of the work that we do at Barnes-Jewish, which allows a man like Lenard Hinds to continue exhibiting his talents and enriching the world.”
Hinds is also a musician. When he was just a teenager, his group opened for Martha and the Vandellas at Kiel Opera House (which is known as the Peabody today). After that, he began writing and recording gospel music. Some of his songs were played on commercial radio stations.
Today he’s teaching one of his great-grandchildren how to play the piano and sing.
“The doctors and staff at Barnes-Jewish are wonderful,” Hinds says. “They saved my life. Now I have confidence that I’m going to wake up in the morning.”