After my 50th birthday, my wife, Ann, urged me to get a physical check-up. I felt there was no need because I was seemingly in such good health; it had been years since my last physical, I took no prescription medicine and other than the random cold, I rarely got sick. My blood work told a different story. There were anomalies in my liver numbers, and we soon discovered that I had Hepatitis C and stage four cirrhosis. This started a 10 year ordeal of weekly trips to the doctor, several vain attempts at a cure, and a steady decline in health.
On one of my many check-ups, an MRI revealed three small lesions on my liver, hepatocellular carcinoma, the all too often result of long-term liver disease. Treatment of those tumors became another part of my medical regimen. As I continued to get weaker and sicker, a transplant increasingly became the only option for treatment. Because of the tumors my MELD score was high, so I was near the top of the transplant list. We waited about a year and a half before we got the call that a liver was available. We thanked our lucky stars and jumped at the chance, Ann and were at the hospital within the hour.
It was not lost on me that as Ann and I were preparing for the surgery that could possibly save my life, another family was saying goodbye to a loved one. Our thrill, excitement and joy at the prospect of regaining my health was tempered by the thought of the sorrow and pain of another family. I do not know my donor family, but I am grateful beyond words that they chose organ donation when their loved one passed away. Without them I would not be here now, and I think of that every day.
The surgery went well. Almost immediately I felt better than I had in years, the surgical pain notwithstanding. My color was better, I felt stronger and more vital. I went into the hospital on a Monday morning and left the following Sunday afternoon. I spent the next 12 weeks at home, followed doctors’ orders to the letter, took all my meds at the right time, showed up for all of my appointments, and continued to recover. I was taking care of myself, sure, but I was also cognizant of giving my new liver the best treatment possible.
I returned to my art studio, and surrounded by my paints and brushes I felt was at last home. I was overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude at how incredibly fortunate I was to have passed this ordeal and come out the other side unscathed. I now make art nearly every day and my work has been included in shows in New York, Nashville, Missouri, Los Angeles, Florida and Las Vegas, as well as here in Louisville. I just found a gallery that is going to begin representing my work in New York City, with a possible small show in June. I owe all of this to so many people: my organ donor family, doctors, nurses, friends and family and most notably, my wife Ann, who stood by me every step of the way. A transplant affects so many more people than just the one getting the new organ.
Even though I had a new liver, I still had the hepatitis virus in my bloodstream. Shortly after my transplant, I was approved to take the latest Hepatitis C anti-viral. Many drugs promised a cure, but this one was the first one that proved highly effective of clearing the virus in most cases. It did just what it was supposed to do in me and after 12 weeks I was finally, finally, free and clear. New liver, no virus, and so grateful.