My name is Travis. I registered as an organ donor a long time ago after talking to Whitey Walson. He encouraged me to get on the list. I always liked him, and it seemed like a Christian thing to do, so I did. My wife, my brothers, cousins, children, my whole family registered as donors. That was before I had any idea I’d ever need a transplant.
I’d always been really healthy. I loved the outdoors. My wife and I hiked with our daughters – I could carry them on my shoulders as we hiked up to Natural Bridge, a trip we’d make several times a year.
Then I started having shortness of breath and was diagnosed with COPD. Nobody saw that coming. I’d never smoked, never done anything that put me at risk. No one had any idea where it came from, just that out of the blue, I had trouble breathing.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, one day when I was walking to out to the barn and I fell out in the yard. I just ran out of steam and sunk down on the grass. It took fifteen minutes before I could get up and go back into the house.
My doctor thought that I had cancer and sent me for a PET scan. It turned out that I had cirrhosis of the liver, which was another mystery, since I didn’t drink.
The next step was a GI doctor, who had an idea what was wrong with me. He took thirteen tubes of blood to run tests. He’s the one who told me that I have a genetic auto-immune disease that affects the lungs and the liver, so after all these years, it explained the COPD. I’d never heard of Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, but I was born with it. My parents were both carriers and my children and other family members carry this disease as well.
I finally knew the problem, but I still kept getting worse. I met the transplant doctors at UK several times. They said my condition was the worst they’d ever seen. They put me on the list for a transplant.
On Thanksgiving in 2010, my family was celebrating when we got the phone call. They had a liver for me. We really had something to give thanks for that year!
The surgery wasn’t easy. My pastor, Thomas Hall, told me afterwards, “So many nights I left the hospital and I thought, ‘This is it.’”
It was a long recuperation from surgery, but then I felt great. Better than ever. I weighed 230 pounds going in to the hospital and 129 pounds coming out. Thanksgiving 2015 was my five year anniversary. It’s good. I have so much to be thankful for.
I’ve never met my donor. I’m not sure that I could handle that. We sent a card and letters to the donor family thanking them, but I haven’t been able to do more. It would be so emotional. We haven’t heard anything from them, so they seem okay with not meeting, too.
If I could tell them anything, I’d want them to know that their loved one didn’t die in vain because I’m still going, and I’m still here for my family. I’ve been here for birthdays and Christmases with my grandkids. There are two of them I’d have never seen without this transplant.
My wife and I celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary with our family. Our daughters took us to Sterns, Kentucky to ride the train. We visited Cumberland Falls, and then, since our anniversary is the Fourth of July, we stopped by Lake Reba for the fireworks. It was a great day for the family.
But really, every day is a blessing. My wife likes to tell people that we always said when we retired we were going to travel. Well we do. We go to Lexington to the doctor. A lot. It’s a good retirement, though.
Since Whitey is not here anymore to encourage people to register, I’ll do it for him. By all means, register. Be an organ donor. You never know when it’s you or your loved one who might end up needing a transplant.