About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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One liver, two friends

Former patients might not recognize Dr. Brian Buckley if they see him walking in downtownBrian Buckley and Leo Fredericksburg. Buckley is 100 pounds lighter than when he was a practicing internist here, though he does not recommend the way he lost weight.

Buckley, at right with his dog Leo, had a liver transplant Oct. 12 at the VCU Medical Center in Richmond. Fredericksburg resident Gerardo Despian, Buckley’s friend and former neighbor, was the donor.

Buckley, 51, practiced in the Fredericksburg area from 2000 to 2007, before moving to Raleigh, N.C. He, his wife, Shirley, and their three children returned to the area in September.

Buckley said his liver began to fail while he was working here. He did blood tests on himself, but neither he nor his doctors could understand why it was happening. He suspects that it was because of a hereditary condition, and, in part, because of his weight. He weighed 280 at the time.

“I was slowing down. I had no energy at all. It was a struggle for me to keep my office open,” he said, during an interview in his home this week.

In North Carolina he learned that he would need a liver transplant. He waited for more than a year on the national donor list for a deceased person’s liver. Then, when Despian volunteered and passed the many tests that were required, the pair went to VCU for the transplant. The two have known each other about 10 years. They had coached together when their children were in recreation leagues, their wives were friends and the families had socialized.

Their surgeries were held the same day in adjoining operating rooms. One surgeon removed about 75 percent of Despian’s liver, and a second surgeon implanted the piece in Buckley after removing Buckley’s old liver. Both men described the recovery as difficult. Despian has recently returned to work part-time in Washington. Buckley said he is still weak but feeling better each day.

Now he struggles with how to express his gratitude. Buckley said he was always uncomfortable when someone did him a favor, and now his friend has given him what may be the ultimate gift. 

“I don’t know what to do, what to feel,” he said. Despian has told him that he’d be happy if things could be just like they’ve always been.

Look for a story in the paper soon about Buckley, Despian and how they now share the same liver.