Transplant Stories

From 2018 to 2021 we continued to meet with Henry Ford as they monitored the progression of my liver disease. In the fall of 2021, I noticed a change in my abdomen while golfing. It became very uncomfortable to swing a golf club, and I noticed my stomach getting larger. Eventually, it became very uncomfortable and painful. I knew something wasn’t right so I called my doctor who requested that I go to ER immediately.

It turned out that I had Ascites—an accumulation of fluid in my belly, a common symptom of liver failure. A normally functioning liver would filter this fluid and guide it to the vascular system, but since my liver was hardened and cirrhotic, the fluid could not pass through the liver and backed up in my abdomen.

This was the straw that broke the camel’s back–you cannot live long-term with ascites because it progressively gets worse and makes life miserable. This first procedure collected three liters of fluid. In the coming months, my paracentesis would collect five to six liters.

 

By the spring of 2022, I was getting weekly procedures. This was actually the highlight of my week. I couldn’t wait to drive to the hospital so I could get the fluid drained off me. I would experience about 36-48 hours of relief and then the fluid would come roaring back and I’d spend four to five days in misery until my next paracentesis. At the same time, my body was breaking down physically. I could no longer bike or go for walks. I was losing my voice and my strength and energy levels were waning. I felt like I was wasting away—which I was. The liver is so critical to so many bodily functions including digestion, respiration, energy, and metabolism.

Finally, on June 22, my liver transplant coordinator called me can tell me my MELD score was now 20 and that she could list me. I asked her to list me the following Monday as Kristy and I were still tying up loose ends with my business, home, and kids.

I was told that I could get an offer very quickly because I have AB+ blood type which makes me a universal receiver–meaning I could accept a liver with any blood type. Also, we were approaching July 4th weekend when there is an uptick of fatal accidents resulting in more organ donations.

Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit

Liver Transplant Evaluation

One of the factors that the transplant team monitors is called a MELD Score which is a liver disease severity scoring system that uses a patient’s laboratory values for serum bilirubin, serum creatinine, and the international normalized ratio (INR) for prothrombin time to predict three-month survive. Patients with cirrhosis, an increasing MELD score is associated with increasing severity of hepatic dysfunction and increased three-month mortality risk. A healthy person’s MELD score is usually in the range of 4-6. By the fall of 2021, my MELD score had climbed steadily to 16.

Usually, patients get listed for an organ once their MELD reached 20, so my team suggested that I should begin the process of liver transplant evaluation. This is a series of tests that include blood draws, an MRI, an ultrasound, EKG, and a stress test to ensure I could survive the surgery. I passed the evaluation in January, so now it was just a matter of waiting for the inevitable.

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