Ridgefield teacher donates portion of liver to Bridgeport man: ‘You save a life’

RIDGEFIELD — Maureen Tyra, who teaches social studies at East Ridge Middle School in town, said her parents taught her and her seven siblings to give to others.

“My parents were great role models and would tell us whenever somebody's in need and if you’re able to help them — do so,” said Tyra, 56, a Bethel resident, mother of five and grandmother of three.

Tyra has followed her parent’s advice — she’s been donating blood since she was 17 and has been a foster parent for the past eight years.

Recently, when her sister came down with an autoimmune illness that impacted her liver, Tyra was all set to donate a portion of her own liver to her sibling. When she learned her sister’s condition was able to be cured medically, she still donated her liver — to a man she had never met before. In doing so, she saved his life.

The path to donate

When Tyra learned her sister didn’t need her liver, she said she thought, “well, if she didn't need it, I'm sure somebody else does.”

Around that time, Tyra saw the News-Times article from 2020 about New Fairfield resident Caitlin Balint who was seeking a liver donor.

Tyra contacted Yale New Haven Hospital and inquired about donating.

She started the screening process to see if she was eligible. She took many tests, such as CT scans, blood tests, a liver biopsy, stress tests, and an MRI.

“I went through all those kinds of things just to make sure not only that my liver was healthy, but that I was healthy and I would be able to recover well,” she said.

When Tyra learned that Balint found a donor, Tyra decided to continue on with the screening process, with the hope she could eventually find someone she could help.

The entire process to determine if she was a match took about eight months.

In April, she learned her liver was a match, and her surgery was scheduled for May 18, 2021.

On the day of the surgery, Tyra was in one room and 26-year-old Bridgeport resident Stephen Farrell was in the next room.

At the age of 21, Farrell had been diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a rare liver disease that damages the bile ducts inside and outside the liver.

During the surgery, physicians took 60 percent of Tyra’s liver, which she learned is the maximum they can take.

“They first took it out from me and then ran it over and put it in him,” she said, recalling the procedure which took about seven hours.

Tyra was in the hospital for a week. The recovery took about three months.

“They didn't want me to lift anything more than eight pounds, I couldn’t get the stitches wet, and just had to pretty much lay low and take it easy,” she said.

She said the timing worked out perfectly with her work schedule since she was scheduled to be off for five weeks. She missed about two dozen days of teaching, but was able to plan for her students in advance.

One year anniversary

Tyra is now fully recovered from her surgery. The only outside mark she has is a 12-inch long scar from her sternum to her belly button.

On the inside, though, she said she’ll always feel a strong connection to Farrell, who she finally got to meet on May 18 — the one-year anniversary of her liver donation.

“We met at Yale in a conference room with our social workers and surgeons,” she said.

When she first met Farrell, she said it was like "meeting one of my own children, because he's one of my own children's age.”

In a recent phone conversation, Farrell told Hearst Connecticut Media the surgery changed his life.

“I have more energy now,” Farrell said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity at a new life.”

Tyra advises those who are able to consider donating a portion of their liver. She was told by her physicians that the liver takes six months to a year to fully grow back.

“If you're searching how you can make a difference in the world, this is a way. It doesn't take much out of your life,” Tyra said. “It's a little bit of recovery but the reward is tremendous. You save a life. It gives someone an opportunity, a chance, and how often do we get that opportunity to do something of such magnitude — and if we can, why wouldn't we?”

sandra.fox@hearstmediact.com 203-948-9802