Baseball great Mickey Mantle, shown in this July, 1994 photo, developed progressive liver failure and needed a liver transplant.
(Originally published by the Daily News on June 9, 1995.)
A gift from a stranger gave Mickey Mantle a fresh chance at life last night.
After 61/2 hours of liver transplant surgery, the legendary Yankee opened his eyes for a moment at 3:30 p.m., groaned and then slipped back into unconsciousness when Dr. Goran Klintmalm, a transplant team member, said: “Hi Mickey. How are you?”
Mantle’s dramatic surgery unfolded in the pre-dawn at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas after his condition swiftly deteriorated because of the cancer and hepatitis consuming hs liver.
Doctors would not reveal the identity of Mantle’s benefactor, saying only that he provided seven other organs to six other people.
But members of the transplant team were smiling after the Hall of Famer, was wheeled out of the operating room at 11 a.m.
“Everything went very well in the surgery,” said transplant surgeon Dr. Robert Goldstein. “He now has an excellent chance for recovery. The liver seems to be functioning and that’s the key to immediate post operative recovery.”
Mantle was in critical condition last night. His body could still reject the donated liver. But doctors said the cancer did not appear to have spread, though it will be at least a week before they know for sure.
“He is 63 years old,” Goldstein said at a news conference. “And you just have to be very, very concerned and watch very closely to make sure that everything goes very well.”
Goldstein said doctors also will continue to monitor for any problems developing from Mantle’s hepatitis.
He has an 85% chance of surviving his first year with the new liver. But because of Mantle’s age and past alcohol problems, his chances of surviving for 10 years is about 60%, Goldstein said.
The potentially life-saving operation came exactly 26 years after the New York Yankees retired Mantle’s uniform No. 7 in a ceremony June 8, 1969, before more than 60,000 adoring fans at Yankee Stadium.
As Mantle was undergoing surgery his sons recalled the good and the bittersweet moments from the past.
“I don’t know if it’s the whole thing of how close he is to death or whatever,” said Dan Mantle, 35, the slugger’s youngest son. “This is something that really brought the feeling of family closer together.”
Mantle was hospitalized on May 28 complaining of stomach pains. Years of alcohol abuse and a hepatitis C infection had ravaged his liver. And doctors on Tuesday notified the Southwest Organ Bank Inc. that Mantle needed a new liver.
On Wednesday, doctors announced they had found a cancerous tumor.
Transplant surgeon Dr. Robert Goldstein speaks at a press conference, June 8, 1995, after a tranplant operation for New York Yankees baseball great Mickey Mantle at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.
The organ bank called Baylor at 8 p.m. Wednesday and announced they had a liver for Mantle. Organ bank director Alison Smith said it wasn’t unusual for a liver to be found so soon. A patient in Mantle’s poor condition, she said, received a liver after an average wait of 3.3 days.
“His medical condition was worse than any other recipient we had listed from the local area,” she said. “I’m sure there will be people who refuse to believe there wasn’t some special consideration given because of who he is, but that was not the case.”
By 9 p.m., a team of Baylor doctors were flying aboard the university’s private jet to an unnamed hospital where they harvested a 3-pound liver from a man who had recently died. Two hours later they flew back with the liver packed in a special solution and ice.
Meanwhile, Mantle’s wife, Merlyn, and sons were told to come to the hospital, and at 1 a.m. the slugger was told. His son, David, said Mantle thought they were joking at first.
“He was getting delirious,” said Mantle’s 39-year-old son, David. “You had to just keep reminding him, ‘No. This is serious. . . . This is not a joke.’ “
Three hours later Mantle was wheeled into the operating room, and at 4:30 a.m. Goldstein picked up a scalpel and began cutting.
The surgery went smoothly after some initial difficulties with scar tissue from an earlier gall bladder operation. But by 7:30 a.m., Mantle’s diseased liver and bile duct had been removed, said Dr. Goran Klintmalm, another member of the transplant team.
At 8 a.m. the new liver was implanted and doctors waited nervously for another half-hour for it to start working.
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