Staff member in Cath Lab in scrubsStaff in scrubs in the Cath LabStaff in scrubs in the Cath Lab


30 years later: Ben's second chance after a liver transplant

Ben in a hospital bed

19 April 2024

This week liver transplant recipient Ben Lancaster is celebrating 30 years of good health. At just five years old, Ben became one of the first children at Austin Health to have a liver transplant.

Ben underwent a 12-hour surgery to replace his liver with a cut-down piece of an adult liver. It was an extremely high risk and experimental procedure at the time, performed by Professor Robert Jones, now Liver & Intestinal Transplant Unit Director at Austin Health. He worked alongside Dr Peter Angus and Dr Arnold Smith.

Professor Jones explains at the time there was a climate of intense opposition to paediatric liver transplants, which were seen as too dangerous. However, the Austin team believed we needed to develop capability locally, and to pioneer for change, especially for children with no alternative options.

Newspaper article with the heading 'Transplant gives Ben a new lease of life'

This was the case for Ben, who arrived at Austin Health in 1994 thin and weak due to congenital condition Biliary Atresia, where bile ducts fail to form. Ben had his first operation at just seven weeks, but his health eventually declined. “I was very sick throughout childhood. Mum tells me I was in and out of hospital sometimes for six months at a time.”

“I don’t remember much about the transplant. I remember being in hospital and playing Lego with dad,” says Ben. “I would love to meet the person who donated the liver back then.”

Professor Bob Jones today in his office

For Professor Jones that moment 30 years ago comes back easily. "I clearly remember treating Ben – it was very serious.”

“Thirty years on there is still no treatment for Biliary Atresia other than a bypass for bile drainage or a liver transplant. If we saw Ben today, we would likely perform the transplant earlier – around two years old. But back then we waited until he was five because of the risks.”

Ben as he is today sitting on a couch next to his dog.

To everyone’s relief, Ben recovered from his transplant and began to thrive. He says he has been in relatively good health for three decades now. He has travelled, achieved his goal of becoming a mechanic, and is based in regional Victoria with his family.

He says, “I am happy I am still here and enjoying life. If someone was in a similar position, I would advise them, ‘Don’t be afraid of having a transplant – one day you can travel the world and be healthy like me.'”

Austin Health is a national leader with a long history of excellence and innovation in transplants. The Austin’s Victorian Liver Transplant Unit (VLTU) is responsible for all adult and paediatric liver transplants in Victoria, Tasmania and Southern NSW.