Transplant Stories

The night before my surgery (July 5, 2022), I remember thinking about two people–the donor and my transplant surgeon. I didn’t know either, but these two people were about to save my life. I was in such poor health, feeling miserable, and desperately needing a new liver. Yet I was melancholy because someone had to die in order for me to live. Receiving this precious gift of life is hard to comprehend and explain.

The next morning, July 6, I awoke at 2:30 AM in order to get to the hospital by 4:30 AM. I was surprised that I wasn’t nervous. My wife, Kristy, sister-in-law Susan (as seen in the photo below), and I arrived at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI. We were told to enter at the maternity entrance which was ironic because I actually looked pregnant due to my ascites (fluid build up due to liver failure).

My sister-in-law Susan and I arriving at Henry Ford Hospital on the morning of my transplant. My ascites (fluid buildup) is a sign of liver failure.

We arrived in the pre-op area. It was surreal because there was no one around. We were the only ones there at this early morning hour. We finally got settled and started preparation for transplant. Again, still no nerves…we experienced the grace of God present in this moment. This is a gift we continually thank the Lord for today.

One of the most amazing photos of our entire journey. It shows my wife, Kristy, at peace. We both feared this surgery. Now, the day is finally upon us and we had no fear. We know this is due to the many prayers that were lifted up for us. I asked friends and family specifically to pray that “all fear would be replaced with peace.” As you can see from this photo, those prayers were graciously answered.

Eventually, my team of surgeons, doctors, and nurses came into the room one by one to introduce themselves and answer any questions. Two individuals stood out: the anesthesiologist and the liver transplant surgeon. There were about 12+ medical team members who would be in the operating room–each one playing a critical role. It was surreal meeting all of these individuals who would play such an important role as my life was in their hands. But, I could sense I had the best team, and I knew I was covered in prayer by family and friends.00

Also, there were several scripture verses I had been meditating on prior to my transplant that talk about Christ living in me. For example, Galatians 2:20 says: “I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” I centered my thoughts on this verse. If Christ lives in me, I was able to envision Him with me on the operating table. This provided great comfort during a critical moment. I immediately acclimated myself to the operating room, and took everything in. I was overwhelmed by the number of machines and monitors, the giant surgical lights, and all of the instruments and medical equipment. The massive surgery was about to begin…July 6 at 8:30 AM my liver transplant officially started.

 

From Kristy’s perspective as I was about to receive the gift of life:

It is hard to describe waiting for nearly ten+ hours during my husband’s transplant surgery. And I am not sure how to shorten this part of the story, because every minute was important and worth noting. As I reflect back on these hours there were two practical decisions I made ahead of time: 1.) I needed one person to stay by my side that I trusted with all my heart, and 2.) I needed our two boys to have somewhat of a “normal day” so they did not experience a full day of trauma. With a bag full of stuff to occupy my time, I found that I could do nothing but pray and pace the hallways, and wait for my phone to ring with updates from the operating room nurse. He called just three times; alluding to things like: “he is progressing as expected” and “things are going okay.” I couldn’t get any more information out of the nurse and knew I had to grasp the fact that less information is best at this point. (I have a degree and job in public relations, so communication is really important to me both professionally and personally :).

As the afternoon progressed my sister took care of me by just being present. She kept me well fed too. It was all I needed. Her presence calmed me. In addition, my brother-in-law played a vital role behind the scenes treating our sons (his nephews) to amazing hospitality at his childhood home in Plymouth, a brief tour of Detroit, lunch at Coney Island, and arriving at the hospital at the perfect time. Truly God was in all the details. My brother-in-law was also able to check us into Henry Ford Guest Housing (specifically in the liver transplant apartment) as I did not want to leave the waiting room. (I never left this space the entire time.)

The surgeon came out to see us around 4 PM. Here he updated me, my sister, brother-in-law and our two boys with the facts: the transplant was a success. Although long, intense and incredibly hard on Jeff’s body he survived. At this point his own liver he was born with had progressed to now being a tangled web – adhered to his abdominal wall. It took a ton of the surgeon’s time, effort, and energy to remove his diseased liver (due to a lifelong autoimmune disease). Meanwhile, the donor’s liver remained on the TransMedic pump waiting for the moment to grant Jeff life.

Overall, although complex and complicated the transplant was done. It is worth noting that this particular liver was a perfectly matched donor–a healthy liver with AB+ blood type – the exact, rare blood type that Jeff was.

Now we were told we had another two hours or so for the transplant team to finish things up in the operating room before Jeff was transported to the ICU. We then walked over to this part of the hospital and waited for the ICU team to welcome us back. This took several hours as well…as now the ICU team was tending to the many needs of Jeff post-transplant (ultrasounds, pain management, etc.). I was given great advice from our pre-transplant nurse prior to the surgery letting me know that the ICU team needs their space to do things within their own timeline. I took this to heart and continued to wait knowing they needed time. Jeff still had a breathing tube in and they were hopeful to remove that before we stepped foot in the room. As it approached 8:00 PM we got the call to come back. I went first with my sister, while the boys continued to wait. This was the moment I had been anticipating….a new liver for my husband.

Upon entering the room it was calm but the feeling was intense. The critical care doctor brought me up to speed on everything, and Jeff immediately connected with me using his eyes, and motioned to me that he wanted to write something down. I gave him my clip board with paper and pen and he wrote: “Need more air.” This was INCREDIBLY hard to witness. I watched the ICU team and respiratory therapist work so very, very hard to wean him from the ventilator. This eventually happened but I did have to remove myself from the room while my sister remained by Jeff’s side. It was too hard for me to bear. To this day, I remain in complete and utter awe of the ICU doctors, nurses, and specialists that took care of Jeff. They are the cream of the crop–the best of the best. I have the greatest respect for the Henry Ford healthcare workers. They also became like a family and dear friends to us. I am forever grateful for their amazing expertise and care.

I then went back to the waiting room and talked things out with the boys. Explaining the magnitude of the situation and what they were about to witness. Asking them if they thought they could handle it, and did they want to wait to see dad possibly in the morning when things were a bit less intense? I knew they would make the right decision…and I trusted whatever they wanted would be best. They both wanted to see dad. I had thought about this moment and what words I would use to prepare them to walk through the ICU doors…the Lord gave me these words: “Matt & Grant – you are about to witness a miracle!”

We feel humbled, honored and privileged – even amongst all of the pain and suffering that we watched Jeff go through – to be able to say we were witnesses to a modern-day miracle!

All glory to God and immeasurable thankfulness to the donor’s family for giving Jeff the gift of life, and for an incredible team of liver transplant doctors and nurses who have dedicated their life to saving others.

 

Even during the hardest time of waiting in the ICU for 10 very long hours we had each other to offer comfort and love. Pictured here is Kristy, my precious wife of 27 years, oldest son Matthew (20), and younger son Grant (18). Photo courtesy of my amazing sister-in-law, Susan, who never left Kristy’s side.

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