New mom thrives after life-saving liver transplant at North Shore Hospital

New mom thrives after life-saving liver transplant at North Shore Hospital
Danielle Grafas, left, her husband Angelo Zismopoulos, right, and baby Athena, center. Grafas would have died within 24 hours, had she not undergone a successful liver transplant after falling into a coma following giving birth to Athena. (Photo courtesy of Northwell Health)

Doctors at North Shore University Hospital saved a new mother’s life weeks after she gave birth to her little girl in June.

In the final stages of her pregnancy, Danielle Grafas of Bayside, Queens was eagerly anticipating a summer birth.

“Unfortunately, at 31 weeks of pregnancy, I awoke one morning and realized that I was completely yellow,” Grafas said at a press conference at Northwell Health’s headquarters on Tuesday afternoon.

Grafas rushed to see her doctors and subsequent medical tests revealed that she had developed acute fatty liver disease late in her pregnancy.

Dr. Lewis Teperman, director of organ transplantation for Northwell and vice chairperson of surgery at North Shore Hospital, says the disease, while rare, can be fatal if not treated immediately.

“It generally occurs late in the pregnancy, as was the case with Danielle,” Teperman said.

Due to the severity of her illness, Grafas underwent an emergency C-section at the hospital on June 11. The healthy baby Athena, who weighed in at three pounds at birth, was placed in the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

In the meantime, Grafas’ condition further deteriorated after the delivery.

“Her liver was one third the size of a normal liver and was operating at only 5 percent capacity,” Teperman said.

Because of this, Grafas slipped into a coma on June 28.

It was at this point, Teperman says, that he understood that a liver transplant was necessary.

“Because of her condition, Danielle was considered Status I on the national transplant list,” Teperman said. “We always say that transplantation is an accident of time.”

The transplant team, headed up by Teperman, was able to procure the liver on June 29 from a donor in Pennsylvania, and a seven-hour liver transplant was performed later that day.

“We were able to procure a viable liver from a deceased patient in Pennsylvania, and all of our thoughts and prayers go out to the donor’s family and we are very grateful for their generosity,” Teperman said. “Without the liver transplant, Danielle would not be with us today.”

Teperman adds that the surgery was the first to take place at Northwell’s Transplant Center since it re-opened in June. Transplants, as well as other non-life-threatening operations, had been curtailed during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.

One day later, Grafas awoke, feeling “alert and hopeful.” Her husband Angelo Zismopoulos  was able to bring their daughter home on July 3, and Grafas was released on July 14.

With both Grafas and little Athena thriving at home, Zismopoulos thanked the donor family for making his wife’s recovery possible.

“Thanks to Dr. Teperman, I have my family back again,” Zisimopoulos said.

The doctor says that the prognosis for Grafas and her now six-pound, healthy is positive.

“There’s nothing better than seeing a health family,” Teperman said. “I’ve already promised to dance at Athena’s wedding – we’ll all be there.”

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