Massie ’78 finds new liver with alums’ help
A hemophiliac, Massie has received many blood transfusions, one of which carried hepatitis C and caused advanced cirrhosis of his liver. Despite his disease, Massie became an Episcopal priest, political candidate — he ran for the post of lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1994 — and director of Ceres, a nonprofit network that addresses sustainability concerns. The development of hepatitis C-related cirrhosis, however, took a heavy toll on Massie’s health and involvement in many activities.
Earlier this year, Class of 1978 president Gwen Feder e-mailed her classmates on Massie’s behalf, asking them to consider “a potentially life-changing act of generosity on behalf of one of our classmates,” a living-donor liver transplant, the Princeton Alumni Weekly said.
“Bob Massie was a much beloved classmate for those of us in the Class of 1978. Because his hemophilia limited his mobility, Bob had a little motorcart, painted orange and black, that he drove around campus,” said Dave Douglas ’78, a friend and classmate of Massie’s at both Princeton and Yale Divinity School. “We all thought it quite appropriate that the cover of our yearbook, published during our senior year, had a photograph of Bob’s motorcart parked next to Nassau Hall.”
When Douglas received the e-mail from Feder, he forwarded it to a roommate from Princeton, Stuart Knechtle ’78.
“Stuart had recently moved from the University of Wisconsin to Emory to take the position as director of Emory’s liver transplantation program,” Douglas explained. “As a result of his move, I thought that he might not be on the Princeton Class of 1978 e-mail list and hence would not have received Gwen’s e-mail.”
Knechtle offered to review Massie’s case and found that Massie was a blood-type match for Jean Handler, a woman who suffered from Maple Syrup Urine disease and also needed a liver transplant, though her liver could be transplanted without carrying her disease to the recipient.
Handler, who was assigned high priority for a transplant, agreed to be Massie’s donor. After around six years of waiting on Massie’s part, on July 10, both patients received new livers in a successful domino transplant at Emory.
“He waited a long time because his [Model for End-Stage Liver Disease] (MELD) score, used to prioritize allocation of donor livers in the U.S., was low despite him having significant symptoms of his illness.” Knechtle explained in an e-mail. “He was chosen because he was the same blood type as the donor and because we felt that his medical needs were not well reflected by his MELD score.”
Coincidentally, both patients have ties to Princeton: Handler is the daughter of Princeton alumnus Henry Handler ’75.
“The main message to take away from this particular transplant was that the generosity of one deceased donor family and one living donor … allowed two patients to be cured of metabolic diseases … and also hepatitis C-related cirrhosis for Massie,” Knechtle said. “Both patients … have courageously confronted their illness and come through well.”
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