With a new liver he is ready for life

Solangaarachchige Sujeeva Perera, the lucky recipient of the first-ever liver transplantation in Sri Lanka, speaks to Kumudini Hettiarachchi, Pic by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

He is hoping to revive his fast-food restaurant and get back to his passion of cooking. He is also spending more time with his family, time he didn’t devote to them as he was working abroad and later as time slipped by, with him in and out of hospital, death staring him in the face……..not an iota of hope only a load of despair.

Just a month after a surgery that has not only given him a new lease of life but also gone down in the annals of Sri Lankan history, he is back at the National Hospital, smiling behind his face mask.
This is Solangaarachchige Sujeeva Perera, 49, from Nugegoda, the trailblazing liver transplantation patient who has come with his wife Marcia to the Professorial Unit of the Department of Surgery to tell the medical team which performed the “miracle” for him on June 27 how he is doing and allay any niggles that may be bothering him.

Sujeeva at the NHSL last week.

“There is a tremor in my tongue,” he says while Prof. Mandika Wijeyaratne, Professor in Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo who headed the team jokes that it is to stop him talking too much, but quickly assures him that it is normal and due to the medication.

As we gradually reduce the medication, it will pass off, says Prof. Wijeyaratne. The doctors, however, urge Sujeeva to keep away from anyone who is ill as infections should be kept at bay. That is why he is wearing the face mask as well.

Not so long ago, Sujeeva was at death’s door or on “liver death-row” – he was constantly tired and couldn’t work, he had no appetite and his feet were so swollen that he couldn’t wear his shoes.
It became critical about five months ago, says Sujeeva who had worked in the United Arab Emirates for seven years and the last two years at a tourist resort in the Maldives.

His first visit to the NHSL didn’t hold out much hope. It was as if they were in limbo, adds Marcia, an agonizing four months in hospital. For her and their three grown-up daughters life was not easy…..each day, visiting Sujeeva three times in hospital, morning, noon and night.

She is a Catholic and he a Buddhist and there was no church or temple to which they didn’t go to for succour, praying fervently, lighting candles and holding Bodhi poojas. There came a time, when Marcia couldn’t bear the stress and wished it would end one way or the other.

Sujeeva had also had enough – he didn’t have the energy to go on and decided he wanted to go home. “I’m coming home within two days whatever the consequences,” he told Marcia. He had written his last will and he was “ready to go”.

It was then that he was asked whether he would take a chance at transplantation, a serious surgery where his diseased liver would be swapped for one from a brain-dead person. Such a surgery had been tried only once before in Sri Lanka but failed. Sujeeva had nothing to lose and his family and friends prayed for the medical team, that they be given the strength to perform this pioneering and at the same time arduous task successfully.

The transplantation in progress

“I was scared but didn’t have a choice,” he says, ever grateful to the family of the brain-dead donor.

That donor gave life to three people, says Sujeeva who got a second chance with his liver while his kidneys were given to two others.

We pray for him, says Marcia, as Sujeeva nods his head vigorously. The team which made this monumental achievement in Sri Lanka’s transplantation history included Prof. Wijeyaratne; Lecturer in Surgery and Specialist in Vascular Transplantation Surgery, Dr. Rezni Cassim; and Senior Registrar, Vascular and Transplantation Surgery, Dr. Nalaka Gunawansa. The anaesthesia team coming under Senior Lecturer in Anaesthesia, Colombo Medical Faculty, Dr. Anuja Abayadeera included Consultant Anaesthetist Dr. Bhagya Gunatilleke and Senior Registrars Dr. Kanchana Deshapriya and Dr. Mayuri Jayasundera.

While the teams were highly appreciative of all those who helped them to perform the surgery, from the person who carried the bottle of saline to NHSL’s Director Dr. Hector Weerasinghe who willingly gave the green light to go into unchartered territory while cautioning them against “wasting anything including preservative solution”, Sujeeva says it all very simply.

The doctors went over and above their call of duty, he says.

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