On July 7, Fox News chief national correspondent Ed Henry underwent surgery to donate a part of his liver to his sister, Colleen, who had congenital liver disease. Nearly a month later, they're both fine, and on the mend. The surgery was unusual, albeit increasingly less so, and Henry's decision to publicize it was as well, by announcing the transplant to Fox viewers a few hours before he went under the knife.
Henry, 47, now lives outside Washington, D.C., but grew up in Deer Park and went to St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip — "my mom dragged me by my ear to Catholic school because I was a cutup and thought I needed to see the nuns," he said in a recent interview — while his sister lives in Franklin Square. The surgery, called living donor transplant, is possible because the liver is the body's only organ that can fully regenerate itself. Henry donated about 30 percent of his to his sister, who was released from the hospital Wednesday.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, there were about 14,000 people on the waiting list for a liver transplant in August, 2018, while according to other organizations, about 1,700 people die each year waiting to receive a liver. The UNOS says 367 living donor transplants took place in 2017.
Henry and I spoke earlier this week. An edited version of the interview:
First off, how are you doing?
Yesterday [July 28] was the three-week anniversary of the surgery so I celebrated playing nine holes of golf.
What was your primary motivation in doing this surgery?
I was motivated by my love for my sister. She had been on the transplant list for just over a year, and that's the kind of deal where they can call you tomorrow, or the call may never come, and the prospect of my sister dying waiting on that list was something I couldn't possibly imagine, so I ultimately raised my hand, without my sister knowing.
Where was your surgery performed?
Mount Sinai [Hospital] on the Upper East Side … You have to go through a rigorous set of tests and in this case, to see if your liver is healthy enough to share [and] the big thing was to lose ten to fifteen pounds to make sure the fat level is good enough So that was my mission over the course of a few months, and I then crossed the threshold in June. Fat levels [were] down and they wanted to schedule the surgery. It was then that I called my sister.
She didn't know until June?
There are any number of issues that could have come up [during pre-screening]. They could have found something routine, and a lot of things could have knocked me out of the early stages, so it was all done in secret. Mount Sinai assigned me my own team of doctors separate from my sister's. I did initially call her doctor — I was sort of being a reporter — but her assistant said you can't talk to her because of privacy laws, and you have to talk to another team. So that was all part of the secret
What type of liver disease did she have and what was her prognosis?
She had a form of cirrhosis — non alcohol-related — but on my mother's side there are some hereditary issues. She was tired — one of the symptoms is that you feel beaten down — and over time it gets worse and worse. A year and a half ago they suggested she get on the transplant list. I never knew how much time she had, but there's something called a liver MELD [model for end-stage liver disease] score, and if your score is in the 30s you're in desperate shape and she was in the 20s.
Why don't more people opt for live transplants over liver donors? Is the cost prohibitive?
It's simply an education issue … I went into this because I wanted to save my sister who I love. But if as a result public awareness rises and we can help more people then I'm all in and my sister's all in.
Do most people even know the liver regenerates?
I would say 95 percent of the time I've told someone about this, and 95 percent of the time they had no idea … I really didn't know.
When will you be back at work?
That's still TBD. I got clearance from my doctors, but [his lead surgeon] says not to rush back. I'll take the summer off, and I'm taking my son to college, and we'll revisit afterward.
How's Colleen doing?
We know her recovery will be longer than mine, so it's one day at a time, but she's already made good steady progress. The doctors say she has normal liver function — not perfect yet [because] it takes four to six weeks, but basically the normal liver function she didn't have. So in that respect, we're just elated. By the end of summer I should have a fully regenerated liver. The caveat is that the recipient starts out in worse health, but by the end of summer, we both will have regenerated livers from the piece I donated to her.