Father and son duo reunite with surgeon that performed life-changing liver transplant, encouraging others to donate

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WEST BEND (CBS 58) -- On Friday, April 22, John and Greg Meilahn from West Bend were reunited with Dr.Ajay Sahajpal, the surgeon who performed life-changing liver transplants for both father and son.

With April being National Donate Life Month, the Meilahns share how tough their road to recovery was and why it's so important to be an organ donor.

Both the Meilahn men were diagnosed with Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, a rare genetic disorder.

"Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency is a liver-related illness, it's genetic, it's an abnormal protein processing issue within the liver and most of the time it impacts people's lungs," said Dr. Ajay Sahajpal, transplant medical director of Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center.

John Meilahn got his liver transplant in 2017 and his son Greg got his transplant in December of 2021. The young Meilahn's road down to recovery was a hard one.

"My transplant was a piece of cake compared to his because he was closer to death than I was," said John Meilahn, father of Greg.

Greg Meilahn was in the hospital for over 90 days and hooked onto several IVs. He was even fed by a feeding tube. He said now he's on a better path and said he can't wait to make a full recovery.

Dr. Sahajpal said the father and son duo were a unique scenario. He said one in 3,500 people get Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency and only 10% of those patients require a liver transplant. The other 90% of those patients suffer from lung issues, which could require lung transplants.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, over 2,000 men, women and children are on a waitlist for organ transplants. When the pandemic hit, several hospitals had to cancel or reduce transplant surgeries, but Aurora St. Luke's said they kept on doing them. They encourage others to become organ donors themselves.

"Organ donation saves lives and sometimes it can touch lives within the same family, and people shouldn't take life for granted because anything can happen," said Dr. Sahajpal.

John Meilahn said he wants people to understand how important organ donations are to families like his own. He said that because those surgeries saved his and his son's life, his whole family enlisted to the donor list.

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