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Transplants give Burbank woman the gift of life

Woman who survived three liver transplants is celebrating with a miracle — the birth of her daughter.

October 06, 2010|By Joyce Rudolph, joyce.rudolph@latimes.com
(Raul Roa/Staff…)

Monica O'Brien is celebrating the gift of life.

The 33-year-old Burbank resident has survived three liver transplants and despite the odds, gave birth to a daughter in July.

O'Brien was born with hepatitis C but wasn't diagnosed until after high school, she said.

"I had flu-like symptoms for the first 22 years of my life," she said. "Doctors didn't know why the liver wasn't functioning."

O'Brien was tested for hepatitis C mainly to rule out the illness as she didn't fall into the categories that normally cause it, such as blood transfusions or intravenous drug use.

Her first transplant was a couple of months after her 23rd birthday — 10 years ago. Her aunt Susan Dinovo, her mother's sister, was the donor.

The women recently honored the anniversary of the surgery, Sept. 28, 2000, with Dinovo making a visit to meet O'Brien's newest addition to the family — Meaghan, who was born on July 24.

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"I cried — it's just so miraculous that she's here," Dinovo said. "Looking back on what Monica's been through and where she was 10 years ago — what an incredible miracle Meaghan is."

Two specialists told O'Brien that she wouldn't be able to conceive.

"It was definitely a surprise," she said. "We tried for five years and were happily surprised when we were able to."

The smile on her husband, Michael O'Brien, never left his face, she added. They also have a 12-year-old son Charlie, to whom O'Brien gave birth before her surgeries.

During the transplant procedure, between 60% and 70% of Dinovo's liver had been given to O'Brien.

"And both regenerated completely within six weeks, which is totally amazing," O'Brien said.

Three family members were matches for O'Brien, Dinovo said, but the first two didn't work out.

O'Brien had been in the hospital for a while and close to death when Dinovo came for the match test. But Dinovo felt that God was leading her to become the donor.

"From a donor's standpoint, it was more difficult for my husband, John — he was a mess," Dinovo said.

They have five children of their own.

"I told him, you are the one who taught me that 'God first, yourself second, then your spouse,' and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'm being called to do this."

Both came through the surgery fine, but O'Brien suffered a complication from a liver test in 2006. She received an emergency liver transplant, but it was only a bridge. It kept her alive from February to November, and then she received her third liver transplant, she said.

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