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Advances in Health and Medicine

'Plain People,' Complex Cures


A Pitt outreach program helps to provide life-saving liver transplants for Amish children suffering from a rare genetic disorder.

Contrary to common belief, nothing in their traditions discourages the culturally conservative, technology-wary Amish from seeking modern medical care. But rural isolation can prevent them from getting it. Pitt surgeons, in cooperation with the Clinic For Special Children in Strasburg, Pa., show sensitivity toward the lifestyles and beliefs of "plain people" while curing Amish children of Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD) through liver transplantation.

The Pitt transplant team, led by George Mazariegos, found that the metabolic disorder—more common among the Amish—can be cured 100 percent of the time by giving a patient a new liver, though the liver itself does not cause the ailment.

The children are diagnosed at the Strasburg clinic and then taken to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC for surgery. Thus far, all 40-plus Amish MSUD patients treated in Pittsburgh remain alive. Without liver transplantation, MSUD patients face shortened lifespans, must subsist on an expensive special diet, and face the risk of metabolic crises and brain damage.