patient perspective

Father and son James (left) and Jim Busic benefited from the first robotic living donor liver transplant surgery at VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center. Photo: VCU

A Son’s Living Liver Donation Saves Father’s Life

James “Jim” Busic and his wife, Michele, were awaiting the birth of their son last year.

But as a new life drew near, another life — that of the Long Island, New York, man’s father, also named James — was at risk of being lost because of liver cancer.

Word came from doctors that James would need a new liver, and in November 2022 he joined a national waiting list where demand for organs outweighs supply.

This was a journey, but it was a good journey. My future looks bright.

James Busicliver transplant recipient

People die every day waiting for livers, kidneys and other critical organs. But there is a way to avoid competing with the more than 10,000 patients on the national waiting list in need of a liver: find a living person willing to donate the organ.

With these statistics in mind, Jim immediately began the process of learning whether he could give his dad part of his own liver. Their blood types matched, which helps, but the same blood isn’t required nor is it the defining factor for matching. After a series of tests — psychological exam included — specialists cleared him for living donation in March.

And not only did he save his father’s life a few weeks later, but Jim also became the first patient at VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center to undergo surgery to donate a portion of his liver that was assisted by robotic technology.

The Road to Richmond

remote control
James Busic meets his newborn grandson, James. Photo courtesy Busic family

A Florida resident, James was diagnosed with cirrhosis in the early 1990s, and has lived with the stabilized condition since. But a diagnosis of liver cancer nearly three years ago compounded the condition.

By mid-2022, James’ liver cancer was getting worse, and it was clear he would need a transplant.

On April 18, James was transplanted by David Bruno, M.D., interim chair of Hume-Lee and VCU School of Medicine’s Division of Transplant Surgery.

Without a living donor, Dr. Bruno says, the 68-year-old would have been on the list for a long time, with risk of getting sicker growing daily.

“A living donor was the safest way to cure him from his cancer,” Dr. Bruno said. “We’re really embracing living donor surgery and looking for ways to extend it to everyone, regardless of how sick they are, or how old, or how many surgeries they’ve had prior — even if they’ve had a prior liver transplant. This is a surgery that saves lives.”

Jim had his liver removed by the team of Vinay Kumaran, M.D., and Seung Duk Lee, M.D. Dr. Kumaran is director of living donor liver surgeries, and Dr. Lee, associate surgical director of liver transplant, has been working as a robotic surgeon for the last 10 years.

Jim found out only a few days prior to surgery that his procedure would be robotic, thanks to a slim build and healthy liver.

“I first met my surgeons, and as soon as you speak to these gentlemen — incredibly bright, incredibly professional — and you know they’ve done hundreds of these things, the confidence instantly puts you at ease,” Jim said. “Whatever hesitations I had, they quelled it.”

A ‘Return on My Investment’

Jim and his wife, Michele, welcomed their son, also named James, in February 2023. The baby wasn’t home long before Jim came to Richmond in March for a battery of tests that ultimately cleared him for surgery, and he was back at VCU for the surgery in mid-April. He stayed in Richmond for a month before heading home to Long Island.

Even with the demands of a newborn, “There was never a question of whether I’d do it,” he said. “And my wife was supportive of everything.”

Dr. Kumaran says long-term outcomes for the transplant look positive and that James’ body likely won’t reject the organ, in part because his donor is a family member.

 “Like I told everyone” James said, “expect me around for another 20 or 25 years.”

“At least 20,” Jim added. “I want a return on my investment.”