In an ironic example of art imitating life, the same January week in 2016 that Jay Herzog celebrated the first year anniversary of his own living-donor liver transplant, he lit the set at Baltimore's Everyman Theatre for Under the Skin, a play focusing on organ transplantation. 

Herzog, lighting director at Everyman Theatre, says a rare, inherited disorder called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency eventually led to his liver failure. Symptoms showed up suddenly in the summer of 2014. By Labor Day, doctors said he needed a liver transplant to survive. 

Herzog's transplant surgeon, Rolf N. Barth, MD, associate professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of liver transplantation at the University of Maryland Medical Center, says after a patient has been diagnosed with end-stage organ failure, the challenge is how to obtain an organ that would be the medical therapy to save their life.

Herzog was told he could have a four-year wait until a deceased donor liver was available, and while he waited, he would become sicker and sicker.

Barth says that with over 13,000 people waiting for a liver transplant, according to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the deceased donor pool is not enough to meet the needs. Living liver donation, in which a person donates a piece of their liver, can make the difference, he adds. It is a life-saving treatment that prevents the medical decline that Barth says can be extremely dangerous for a patient with continuing liver failure.

Herzog says he is alive today thanks to a living organ donation from someone who really loves him. “I have been given the most important gift anyone could ever give.” He adds that his entire experience, from organ failure to finding a donor, has given him a new perspective on life and what it means to donate life.

See videos of Herzog’s story and UMMC’s involvement in the play below.