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Patient’s liver transplant opens door to new life

Dec. 8, 2016, 9:11 AM

Liver transplant patient Erin Morris, second from right, with her son Corbin, husband Allen, right, Roman Perri, M.D., and Heather O’Dell, ANP-BC, at a recent follow-up appointment. (photo by Susan Urmy)
Liver transplant patient Erin Morris, second from right, with her son Corbin, husband Allen, right, Roman Perri, M.D., and Heather O’Dell, ANP-BC, at a recent follow-up appointment. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Erin Morris, 29, has much to be thankful for this holiday season, and at the top of her list is Roman Perri, M.D., assistant professor, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

When Morris was 17 she was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis, a disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the liver and can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.
She admits that as a teen she was not always the best patient, but that all changed once Perri took on her case.

And Perri is the first to admit that his patient’s perseverance was an inspiration.

“She is just one of those patients who really turned it all around,” Perri said. “She exceeded our expectations on so many levels. She truly inspires us.”

Morris spent much of her junior and senior years in high school as a patient at Vanderbilt. After graduating from high school, the Decherd, Tennessee, resident began working as a certified nurse assistant. She met her future husband and they had a son.

It wasn’t until Corbin was born that her health began to falter again.

“I was just fine during the pregnancy,” recalled Morris. “But it all went downhill afterwards. I was in and out of the hospital for various infections and things. By the time we got the call that a liver was available I was very, very, very sick.”

A week before the family’s annual camping trip, Morris was cleaning up the yard from a bonfire. Doctors suspect the hay bales scattered around the pit had mold, which Morris inhaled, causing Aspergillosis, an infection caused by Aspergillus, a common mold (a type of fungus) that lives indoors and outdoors. The fungal infection spread from her lungs to her eyes and brain.

“Traditionally, the mortality rate is 100 percent in patients being transplanted who have this type of infection,” Perri said. “She was critically ill and on the verge of dying when a liver became available to her.

“It’s amazing how she pulled herself through it all and just kept moving forward. She is someone we admire a lot for making it through some really, really tough conditions.”

After surviving the liver transplant in 2014, Morris decided to enroll in school to earn her Licensed Practical Nursing degree. She will graduate in December.

“We all encouraged her to pursue it,” Perri said. “We are looking forward to her big day.”
Morris said her time at Vanderbilt influenced her career choice.

“I always wanted to do something in the medical field, but my illness stopped me before,” Morris said. “As a matter of fact, I almost missed my chance. Just three weeks into the program I was hospitalized with a bout of rejection. I didn’t let that interfere. I took tests and did my work from my hospital bed.”

The past 10 years have been a whirlwind, added Morris.

“I definitely could not have done it without God, my husband, Allen, and a great support system. I know Dr. Perri has been on my side the entire time. He has been a big advocate.”

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