USC Liver Transplant Program’s First Patient Still Going Strong 20 Years After Surgery

USC Liver Transplant Program’s First Patient Still Going Strong 20 Years After Surgery

In 1985, Beni Carrillo, a high school Spanish teacher in Pasadena, was diagnosed with liver disease. Her doctor explained that she would need a liver transplant in 10 years.

Early detection was a key factor to Beni’s survival, and she started seeing a doctor at Keck Medicine of USC. She went through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Once arriving at acceptance, 10 years later, she started getting sick.

“My skin started to turn yellow and gray. I began feeling more bloated, and I felt so much fatigue. It was hard, because I have four children, so I couldn’t be as involved as I was with their soccer games and school meetings.“

Beni contacted two different hospitals, while looking for a solution. Then she caught word that Rick Selby, MD, was starting the USC Liver Transplant Program of Keck Medicine.

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“It was a miracle that I found these doctors. I was already sick, and I was running around not knowing anything about what was going to happen to me.”

In November of 1995, Beni and her husband went to meet Selby, to learn more about the new liver transplant program. Her husband was surprised to see how young the doctors were.

“Dr. Selby looked very boyish, and my husband asked how long he has been doing liver transplants.”

Selby explained how he moved out here from Pittsburgh and shared his track record with them. They felt better and more comfortable about the process, so Beni put her name on the recipient list.

“It was exciting to be part of the beginning, and I always felt like I was being taken care of. I knew I was going to be okay. I couldn’t imagine not being a part of my children’s lives.”

In May of 1996, Beni received a call from the transplant coordinator that her liver was ready.

“It was a welcome but scary call. I went in and did all the preliminaries, called my priest and curandero (a native healer or shaman) and left to undergo surgery. Because of how uncommon transplants were at the time, as I walked out the door of my home, I thought that this could be the last time I saw these steps again.”

Beni was the first patient to undergo a transplant at the USC Liver Transplant Program. She was in the hospital for 17 days, and her first activity during her recovery was watching her daughter graduate middle school in June. She has been walking every day since.

“Dr. Selby told me that it would take three months to feel better and get back into my regular activities. He was exactly right.”

Beni’s relationship with Selby didn’t end there. It has progressed and developed into a strong lifelong friendship.

“He is such a warm and caring person. Throughout the years, I had a few bumps in the road, but he was always there to encourage me and make me feel like I’m going to be okay. We’ve remained friends up to this day. He has such a busy schedule, but we make time to communicate as much as we can by email. We also make it a priority to meet at least once, sometimes twice, a year for dinner.”

Together, the USC Liver Transplant Program and Beni Carrillo have reigned through the test of time, celebrating their 20th anniversary and looking forward to many more years to come.

“I’m happy to be alive. I’m happy to have met all the wonderful doctors of Keck Medicine. Dr. Selby is just the best. And I love the time I get to spend with my grandchildren and getting the most out of life I can.”