Running coach receives liver transplant

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A Collegiate School track and cross-country coach who fought to hang onto his life as he waited for a new liver never imagined that the words he used to encourage his athletes would be the same words that they used to encourage him —“You can finish the race!”

Weldon Bradshaw, 64, was suffering from primary sclerosing cholangitis, which is a chronic liver disease caused by progressive inflammation and scarring of the liver.

VCU Medical Center doctors diagnosed his condition in 2009, but it wasn’t until late October when his health took a turn for the worse. 

“I viewed this as a God-given gift that was challenging me to be who I wanted to be in life,” said Bradshaw.  “I’ve always wanted to live strong, to honor people who have had it tougher than I have had it.” 

Bradshaw’s MELD, or Model for End-Stage Liver Disease, was in the 40s. The MELD is a numerical scale ranging from 6 for less ill to 40 for gravely ill. A MELD score determines how urgently a patient needs a liver transplant. 

“Mr. Bradshaw was critically ill and based on the MELD, he would have died by the end of the week had he not received a liver,” said Robert Fisher, M.D., program director of the Liver Transplant Program in the VCU Medical Center and H.M. Lee Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics in the VCU School of Medicine.

During the seven-hour procedure, Fisher and his surgical team used new techniques, some developed at VCU’s Hume-Lee Transplant Center, to sustain the donated liver and stabilize Bradshaw’s other organs that had begun shutting down due to the failing liver.

“The patient is doing very well,” said Fisher. “The liver has the ability to regenerate. It can heal itself and maintain its youth, unlike any other organ in the body.”

The liver transplanted into Bradshaw came from a deceased 84-year-old woman. Five different previous donors who were each 92-years-old have been the oldest liver donors in the U.S., according to the United Network of Organ Sharing.

Hume-Lee Transplant Center doctors have performed 56 liver transplants this year, and eight of them have involved donor livers from individuals between 64 and 84 years old.

Hume-Lee Transplant program is one of the oldest in the nation. In 1968, David M. Hume, M.D., and H.M. Lee, M.D., performed the second successful liver transplant in the United States. 

Currently, the clinical transplant program is ranked in the top 20 for the number of liver transplants performed, and it’s in the top 10 for organ and patient survival rates. 

“I couldn’t ask for better treatment, better care,” said Bradshaw.  “It’s not just the expertise, but the level of compassion, the level of understanding. It’s more than the X’s and O’s of doing an operation.”

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Weldon Bradshaw with his wife, Emily
Weldon Bradshaw with his wife, Emily