By Marilyn Tuberdyck
Many people today threatened by potentially fatal conditions are being saved by the compassion and generosity of others.
My husband, Mike, has been living with hepatitis C for almost 40 years. He contracted it from blood products used to treat his hemophilia, a blood-clotting disorder that he has had his whole life. He and his doctors have diligently tried to eradicate the hepatitis C virus from his system, trying one treatment after another. Finally, the virus was conquered but the damage has been done.
Mike was diagnosed with several tumors of hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) three years ago. He was treated in 2014 at Roswell Park during the November snowstorm. The treatment was a medical marvel; microwaving the cancers and killing them. There was a chance that the cancerous tumors would return, and new tumors did show up two years later. Treatment at Roswell Park followed, using targeted chemotherapy. The cancer is currently confined to his liver, but spreading will be fatal.
Mike’s doctors recommended that he get on a liver transplant list. The transplant center of choice is the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Transplant Service. UPMC is where doctors are taught how to perform liver transplants. We spent three full days at UPMC in December 2016 for the workup before driving home into the Buffalo blizzard.
At the beginning of March, Mike was officially put on the liver transplant waiting list. We were also encouraged by the transplant coordinator at UPMC to look for a living donor. A living donor donates a small part of his/her liver to a transplant patient. The donor’s liver will regenerate, and the portion donated to the transplant patient will grow into full size in a matter of months.
A grant covers the travel and lodging costs of the donor. For Mike, the living donor needs to have blood type B or O (the universal donor), be between 18 and 55 years of age, and be in generally good health. If a liver comes from an accident victim, the entire liver can be used, and the victim must be the approximate size of the recipient. Our family members are beyond the age range or otherwise unsuitable to be donors.
Please consider, and ask others to consider, becoming a donor for Mike. First, get tested for the hepatitis C virus. Many baby boomers are infected, and do not even know it. Currently available treatments are easily tolerable and will eradicate the virus before it causes liver cancer.
Second, check with your doctor to see if you would be able to give a portion of your liver. You can go to the website UPMC.com/LivingDonorLiver or email the nurses at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.
Finally, make sure your driver’s license indicates your wish to become an organ donor, and make sure your family knows it.
Mike jokes that he is the healthiest sick person! He exercises, consumes no alcohol and eats well. He is in a clinical trial through UPMC that will study whether a healthy, active person before transplant leads to a faster recovery after transplant. The Fitbit 2 he wears encourages physical activity.
The liver transplant will also cure his hemophilia, and after this transplant, he will no longer have to perform clotting factor VIII infusions three times a week to remain healthy. Mike is currently seen at the Hemophilia Center of Western New York, where he intends to switch from “patient” to “volunteer” after the transplant.
The UPMC transplant coordinator told us that we would be amazed at the goodness in people. We have faith and optimism.