The account of Dr. Judith Sabolch Feldman’s liver transplant is a love story about second chances … a second chance at love and a second chance at life.
After suffering with a very rare disorder called primary biliary cirrhosis for about 25 years, the Westlake Village dermatologist lived with the knowledge that the only treatment would ultimately be a liver transplant. Medication kept her going through two childbirths and a subsequent contentious divorce, but thanks to a dear friend who insisted on fixing her up on a blind date in the most unlikely setting — in the child custody evaluation waiting room — she met Dave Itzen in 1991.
Even though they didn’t marry until 2008, Feldman describes the wedding as perfection.
“We had the most amazing wedding and he was very involved,” she said.
Two years prior, however, in 2006, while in New York with girlfriends, Feldman had begun to feel ill. Upon her return to Los Angeles, UCLA admitted her, but she was not thrilled with the option they were suggesting.
“It was to put a bypass tube that would run from the portal vein along the vena cava, the big vessel in the body, but then it would bring all the toxins into my brain and there’s something called encephalopathy that would create abnormal thinking and there’s no way in hell that I would take a chance in messing with my brain.”
In 2010 Feldman and Itzen went on an amazing African safari, but when she returned, she was again, not well. This time, she went to USC, which she found much more superior in their method of treatment.
“At UCLA they go by a certain score called meld score for liver transplant. You have to have kidney failure, you have to be on dialysis,” she explained.
Last year, Feldman was diagnosed with breast cancer for which she endured a lumpectomy and radiation. And the thought of a necessary liver transplant hung over her head.
“They usually wait five years, but I didn’t have five years. I was really sick,” Feldman said.
When Itzen offered his liver to her she was floored. She would never have asked, nor expected it, even though it really was her only chance at life.
He told her it wasn’t unselfish.
“He said to me, ‘My quality of life is obviously marginal as well because you’re sick and I can’t leave you,’” Feldman said. “He’s a very active sportsman. He loves to fish, hunt, he’s an outdoorsman and extremely healthy. I hate to tell you he eats five hot dogs a night, potato chips, and Kit Kats. But when he said to the doctor he would be willing to be the living donor they said no, he was too old.”
Itzen fought to be examined. He told them how healthy he was and they finally approved the 62-year-old. He became the oldest living donor at USC.
“When they approved it, we were celebrating,” Feldman said.
She underwent a 12-hour surgery at USC in which they removed her liver and in a separate operating room, they removed 60% of Itzen’s liver to transplant in Feldman.
“It’s a very painful process,” she said. “But there were no options. Death or slow death. I’m living a fairy tale story. I’m looking at this as nothing short of a miracle.”