Hollis woman undergoes liver transplant after nose piercing infection leads to life-threatening condition

Hollis resident Dana Smith and Dr. Lewis Teperman, MD, director of Transplant Services at Northwell Health, reconnect at a press conference on Feb. 25, a little over a month after the life-saving liver transplant. (Courtesy of Northwell Health)

Dana Smith, a 37-year-old mother from Hollis, considers herself lucky to be alive after undergoing a six-hour, emergency liver transplant at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, after being diagnosed with fulminant hepatitis B that she acquired as a result of an infected nose ring. 

The life-saving surgery was performed on Jan. 17 by Dr. Lewis Teperman, MD, director of Transplant Services at Northwell Health. Now, Smith has one message to share following the emergency surgery though the Sandra Atlas Bass Center for Liver Diseases at North Shore University Hospital that saved her life: Don’t let fears of COVID-19 stop you from seeking necessary medical attention. 

During her reunion with Teperman on Thursday, Feb. 25, Smith acknowledged that an important lesson to be learned from her experience is that people should listen to their bodies and seek immediate medical treatment when needed. 

“I did what so many other people are doing now,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to come to the hospital because I was worried about COVID-19. I want to assure anyone who hears my story that the hospital is a safe place and you should not hesitate if you know you need treatment. If I had waited even a few days more, my story would be much different.”

Smith’s story began during the Thanksgiving holiday while on a shopping trip with friends. She decided, on a whim, to get a nose ring, and then thought no more about it. 

A few days later, Smith noticed that she wasn’t feeling very well, experiencing stomach pains, a loss of appetite and vomiting. 

“I just chalked it up to the stress of the holiday season. I thought maybe it was a stomach virus or acid reflux,” Smith said. “But when it got to the point that I couldn’t hold down food or water, I knew I needed to be taken to the hospital.”

Smith was brought to the Emergency Department at Long Island Jewish Medical Center (LIJ) on Jan. 13. That’s where her memory of the ordeal ended, she said. Yet, it was only the beginning. When she awoke on Jan. 19, Smith remembered seeing Teperman.

Teperman told Smith about the stunning turn of events: That she had undergone an emergency liver transplant after having been diagnosed with an aggressive form of fulminant hepatitis B. 

According to WebMD, fulminant hepatitis is when your liver begins to fail very quickly within days or weeks, depending on the cause. This sudden liver failure can happen in people who previously had stable liver disease or never had liver problems.

“We really don’t see too many cases of fulminant hepatitis B anymore,” Teperman said.

When Smith was transferred to Teperman’s care at the Sandra Atlas Bass Center for Liver Diseases, she was suffering from severe swelling of the brain and seizures, all a result of the disease, Teperman said. 

“We placed her in a medically induced coma and immediately put her name on the liver transplant waiting list,” Teperman said.  

Remarkably, a donor liver was offered within 72 hours, enabling Teperman and his team to perform the surgery on Jan. 17. The center, which opened in December 2019, has performed eight liver transplants to date. 

A healthy young woman, Smith’s condition had raised a question about how she became so seriously ill in such a short time. 

According to Teperman, they had realized it had to be the nose ring given the timing of events. 

“This is a young woman who is very lucky to be alive today. In fact, when we first saw her that night, her condition was very dangerous. We’re very lucky that she came to the hospital when she did,” Teperman said. 

Smith continues to be seen by Teperman every 10 days. She plans to return to her job as a corporate payroll manager at Northwell in the near future. When asked if she would agree to allow her 13-year-old daughter, Autumn, to get a nose ring, Smith said, “We’ll have to see about that.”

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