A lasting bond

John Snead and Martha Vaughan, center, were strangers when Vaughan volunteered to donate her liver to Snead in 2011. The patients and their spouses, seen here, are now lifelong friends.

A liver transplant offers a new chance at life — and a lifelong friend

Fourteen people volunteered to be living liver donors for John Snead, 65, as an autoimmune disease steadily attacked his liver in 2011.

As quickly as hands were raised, hopes fell. None of his friends or family members were eligible to help because of medical reasons such as being too old or having an incompatible blood type.

Among them was Snead’s son Andy, who was devastated that his blood type didn’t match his father's — a fact he shared over Sunday dinner with his girlfriend and her parents. His girlfriend’s mom, Martha Vaughan, realized she had the same blood type as Snead.

“I told Andy I’d be OK with being tested if it wouldn't freak his parents out, since they don’t know me,” Vaughan said.

A perfect match

The offer was “divine intervention” said Snead, whose only option to fight his disease was a transplant.

He was diagnosed in 2002 with primary sclerosing cholangitis, which attacks the liver and inflames the bile ducts, eventually causing liver failure. It has no known cause.

After nine years in clinical trials at the VCU Medical Center, Snead said he was so fatigued he could hardly get out of bed. He gave up hobbies, such as sports and yard work, and was forced to retire from his career in the furniture business.

Snead was put on the transplant list in April 2011 but said his MELD, or Model for End-Stage Liver Disease, score didn’t place him in a priority spot on the list. Vaughan’s offer gave him an opportunity to receive a liver before his condition worsened. At the VCU Medical Center, a battery of tests confirmed she was a perfect match.

“To this day, I don’t know how she did it,” Snead said about Vaughan’s willingness to endure rigorous testing procedures and the surgery itself. ”It takes a special person to be a living donor and she is one of those people.”

The two families now have a great bond and love for one another, Vaughan said.

Living ‘life to the fullest’

Recovery wasn’t easy for Snead or Vaughan, but both say they’ve bounced back and are grateful to the VCU Medical Center staff for delivering the absolute best care available to transplant patients.

’Martha and I have both recovered well, and I feel like I can enjoy life to the fullest now,” Snead said.

Vaughan, 54, said people often ask if she feels like a hero, but she says she was simply lucky enough to have the time and family support required to make a living organ donation.

“After being sick for 10 years, John’s life has turned into a new one,” she said. “The donor takes a little while to heal, but you’ll get back there. It’s worth saving a life for.”