Patient Care

Living Donor’s Generosity Offers Second Chance to Florida Man with Metastatic Colorectal Cancer

May. 28, 2024
Tim McDonald and Beth Lipari with members of the URMC Transplant team.

When Tim McDonald, of Tampa Bay, Florida, found out he had stage 4 colorectal cancer that had spread to his liver, self-advocacy became his focus. He sought many opinions and connected with communities online and in-person that would help him cope and find solutions, with the goal to survive and thrive, so he could be there for his wife and family.

That self-advocacy led him to the University of Rochester Medical Center for a unique procedure: a liver transplant from a living donor to remove colorectal cancer metastases.

It also led him to a stranger, from the Rochester area, who would go on to become a literal lifesaver and lifelong friend.

Without either, he wouldn’t have been able to celebrate an important milestone: As of May 16, 2024, he’s gone one year with no evidence of his stage 4 colorectal cancer.


Tim McDonald’s Story

Tim McDonald and his wife, Lori

In November 2020, McDonald found out his stage 4 colorectal cancer had spread to his liver. The diagnosis was scary, but the people around him gave him motivation to find answers.

“I always told my wife, from the time I was diagnosed, I was not going to let cancer take me,” he says.

That kicked off a campaign of advocacy, thanks in part to a team in Florida that insisted on getting many opinions.

Shortly after his diagnosis, McDonald learned of an online community called Colontown and he joined a group focused on those with cancer that has spread to the liver. A Facebook post for live liver donor transplantation came across his screen and he reached out, eventually connecting with Roberto Hernandez-Alejandro, MD, chief of the Transplant Institute at URMC who pioneered this procedure in the U.S.  

If McDonald’s chemotherapy could knock out the cancer in his colon and perineum, then he might be a candidate for live liver transplant, a procedure by which a portion of liver is provided by a living donor, rather than a traditional deceased donor. The liver is the only organ able to regenerate, providing full function for both donor and recipient within a few months.

This option not only helps survival rates but also improves quality-of-life. For patients who have successful outcomes, they do not need to continue chemotherapy unless the cancer comes back.

“Patients whose colon cancer has metastasized to their liver and who are not candidates for resection often are told by their oncologist that they’ve exhausted all treatment options,” Hernandez says. “But for some, we can provide a second chance at longer survival and better quality of life, without long-term chemotherapy.”

When McDonald was ready for his procedure, there were around a dozen centers in the country that offered this therapy, including URMC, which was the second in the U.S. to offer the procedure. URMC’s team has done significantly more than any other center in the U.S. and the only place in the world that has done more than URMC is in Norway. 

So, McDonald made the 1,200-mile trek from Tampa to Rochester for this specialized care.

“I want to go to the people that are most experienced,” he says. 

Now, he just needed a donor who was a match. It took about 14 months, but while on a cruise, he got the life-changing call. He had a donor.


Beth Lipari’s Story

Beth Lipari’s mother instilled generosity in her at a young age. She often would have Lipari bring an apple to her teacher or flowers for the neighbor.

Beth Lipari and her mother

In 2017, she found out her mother had late-stage lung cancer. Lipari made a list of things she wanted to tell her mother before she died, but never got the chance. She wanted more than anything to have one more day with her mother, to talk with her and tell her everything she had put on her list.

She realized she could honor her mother’s memory and help give someone else “one more day” with their loved ones through the ultimate gift.

As a living donor, she could give a piece of herself to help someone in need.

“What a wonderful blessing to be able to donate to somebody in her honor,” Lipari says. “It just really propelled me forward and gave me a different set of purpose.”

As a 23-year employee at URMC, Lipari felt most comfortable here, but at the time, URMC was not taking non-directed living liver donors. She tried other institutions but never made it all the way through the process.

When Jason Colline, a friend-of-a-friend of Lipari, posted on Facebook that he needed a liver, she decided to give that a try because URMC had started accepting non-directed donors. She didn’t end up being a match for him. But Hernandez asked, might she be willing to help someone else?

That’s how she matched with McDonald.

“It was one of the most powerful feelings I've ever had in my life,” she says, “just being told yes.”

She privately messaged Colline that she had tried but wasn’t a match, but that she matched with someone else.

“I said, ‘you don’t know me, I did test for you and, although I didn’t match for you, you saved somebody else's life here at the UR because I'm going to now give to somebody else’.”

Lo and behold, Colline also knew McDonald and realized he could introduce the pair to one another. When Colline connected Lipari and McDonald, they bonded instantly over Zoom.


Ripple Effects

photo 3
Tim McDonald recovering from his liver transplant surgery.

McDonald had to come to Rochester for some pre-operative care and the families connected, with Lipari insisting McDonald stay at their house instead of a hotel.

The day of the surgery, they sat with each other in the waiting area, chatting and enjoying each other’s company. Lipari’s husband even played “Eye of the Tiger” on his phone as they walked to the OR.

Koji Tomiyama, MD, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Surgery, Transplant, performed McDonald’s operation, which took about 12 hours, and Hernandez performed Lipari’s operation, which took about 7 to 8 hours. Neither was exactly a walk in the park. But while hospitalized, they made the best of it. McDonald would visit Lipari, who stayed in the ICU for five days and ended up being discharged a few days before McDonald. Once they were both home and healed, they kept in touch online, messaging one another to see how things were going.

Since then, McDonald has created a new nonprofit called Share My Liver. Its goal is to provide resources for people in need of a living liver donor as well as people who are interested in donating.

McDonald believes, if he hadn’t advocated for himself by contacting Hernandez, he wouldn’t be where he is today. By creating this organization, he’s hoping to use what he learned to help others who may be facing a similar situation.

Beth Lipari, Jason Colline, Dr. Roberto Hernandez-Alejandro, and Dr. Koji Tomiyama at the URMC River Run.

"I'm one year no evidence of disease and none of this would've happened if I didn’t advocate for myself,” he says. “That's what I will spend the rest of my life doing is making sure that other people in the colorectal cancer space – whether they're getting a transplant or getting other types of treatment – just advocate for yourself.”

What started as a patient seeking a second chance and a daughter seeking an answer to a “one more day” wish would become infinite opportunities for family members to have many more days together.

“I'm not only honored that I was able to do it, but to know the impact it's had on so many other people is a powerful feeling,” says Lipari. 

Tim McDonald and Beth Lipari
Tim McDonald and Beth Lipari, with a stuffed liver Tim got her as a gift.