In late March 2018, I went out for my daily run, but after 30 seconds, I was exhausted, and I could barely breathe. I thought I might have a lung infection or the flu, so I returned home.

The next day we left for spring break. At 5:00 pm on Good Friday, I noticed my doctor’s office was calling. I had just done blood work, so I thought “This can’t be good.”  I answered and the nurse asked me where I was. I told her we were just outside of Charlotte. She responded, “You need to get to an ER ASAP, your Hemoglobin is dangerously low!”

I asked, “What’s Hemoglobin?” Hemoglobin is a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen to your body’s organs and tissues and transports carbon dioxide from your organs and tissues back to your lungs.

No wonder I was winded so easily during my attempted run the day before.

We happened to be on our way to visit our friends Mike and Danielle in Jacksonville. Mike happens to be the head ER doctor at Orange Park Medical center, so I texted him: “Mike, are you working tonight?”. He responded in the affirmative. I texted that we’ll see him around midnight because my doctor wants me to visit an ER for low hemoglobin levels.

We dropped our kids off at our friends’ house and then headed to the hospital where Mike greeted us. We seemed to be the only ones in ER which was nice. Mike administered 10 blood tests and a stool test—all of which proved inconclusive.  Later that week en route to NASA to watch a SpaceX Launch (which by the way was a very bad idea because thousands of other families had the same idea), Mike said that I needed to investigate this further with a hepatologist or gastroenterologist (liver specialist). He said that I had something serious going on.

When we returned home, my gastroenterologist Dr. Janardan scheduled an endoscopy procedure to look for bleeding in my esophagus and digestive system. An endoscopy procedure involves inserting a long, flexible tube (endoscope) down the throat. A tiny camera on the end of the endoscope lets the doctor examine the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.

During the procedure, it was discovered that several vehicles had formed in my esophagus. These esophageal vericies are caused by the livers’ inability to handle blood flow due to cirrhosis. Normal livers act as filters for the blood, by my liver was more like a rock—impenetrable for blood, resulting in a condition called portal hyper tension.

Portal hypertension is one of the most serious complications of advanced liver disease. Scar tissue in the liver (cirrhosis) compresses the blood vessels running through it and reduces their blood flow. This affects many other organs throughout your body. It can cause serious internal bleeding and other problems.

We seem to have the situation under control with monthly endoscopy procedures and bi-monthly iron infusions. My hemoglobin levels returned to more normal levels and I was able to resume running and even took my son out west where we hiked the Rockies.

But then in September, things took a turn for the worst. It was a Sunday morning, and I awoke feeling nauseated which was rare. I eventually got sick and threw up blood, so I told Kristy that we needed to go to ER.  On the way out the door fortunately I grabbed a bucket because on the way to the hospital I continued to get sick.

I will tell you, one way to get to the front of the ER line is to walk in with a bucket full of blood! I was immediately brought to a triage room, where several doctors and nurses went to work on me. They administered anesthesia and brought me to ICU for emergency endoscopy. Fortunately, the bleeding had stopped and I was released three days later.

As I was being discharged I was informed that Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids partners with Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit for liver transplants, and that they will be contacting me to set up an appointment. When we pulled into our driveway, I received a call from Henry Ford Hospital asking me if I could meet tomorrow. I thought “Come on, I just got out of ICU, and you want me to drive to Detroit tomorrow?” They explained that the appointment would be in Grand Rapids, which made things easier, so I agreed and Kristy and I met with Dr. Moonka, a Hepatologist the following day. We were nervous because now things were getting serious, and a liver transplant seemed inevitable. Plus we feared this surgery.

When Dr. Moonka entered the room he was like a friendly, warm breath of fresh air, any nervousness we had immediately dissipated. He was very positive about my situation. He commented how healthy I seemed, and that there was no need to consider listing me for a liver anytime soon, which gave us such relief. “I must be in the wrong room, because none of my patients look like you”. He said jokingly. Even at 48 years old, I did look young and healthy for my age.  The appointment went better than expected, and we left feeling relieved.

 

Next: Chapter 4: Ascites and Continued Decomposition

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