Leeds sister, who never knew she was an identical twin, saves sibling’s life in UK live transplant first

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A loving Leeds twin has saved her sister by donating more than half of her liver in a UK medical first.

Annemarie Atha, 48, from Rothwell, offered to do all she could to help her sibling Geraldine Rowing earlier this year, when it emerged she had potentially life-threatening liver disease just years after surviving a battle with liver cancer.

Identical twins Geraldine Rowing (left) and Annemarie Atha at Leeds St James's Hospital. Picture by Simon Hulme.

Identical twins Geraldine Rowing (left) and Annemarie Atha at Leeds St James's Hospital. Picture by Simon Hulme.

Mother-of-two Geraldine faced an agonising wait on the transplant register as well as the prospect of having to take a cocktail of anti-rejection drugs, which could make the return of her cancer more likely, so that her body accepted a new organ.

Desperate to help, Annemarie was tested at Leeds St James’s Hospital and was surprised to find out that, despite not looking identical, their genes were 98 per cent the same. Annemarie was a match.

Seven months after the first live liver transplant between identical twins in the UK, Geraldine is now on the road to recovery as the pair’s near identical genes meant she did not need to take the anti-rejection “immunosuppressant” drugs.

“I thought the worst was over, but then a few years ago I started with ascites that suggested the liver was failing – I knew things weren’t good but I never imagined I’d need a liver transplant,” she said. “I feel incredibly lucky. To find out we were the first identical twins in the UK to have that was a complete shock.”

The fact that the pair had never known they were identical twins has seemingly brought them even closer together, with the very real prospect of a long, painful wait for a suitable donor from outside the family averted.

Geraldine, who was told she may have to wait as long as two years for a transplant, said: “If it wasn’t for Annemarie I would still be on the list now.”

Her sister added: “I nearly feel I’ve got my sister back now.”

Live transplants – where the donor is a living person – are getting more common according to consultant surgeon Raj Prasad, although he said the sisters’ tale is “one in a billion”.

“In many ways we were fortunate to have the option available to us that nature provided,” he added.