I'm celebrating a birthday. No, not the one when I arrived in the world. Rather the one many people refer to when they celebrate another year of life following a transplant.It was a year ago i underwent my life-saving liver transplant. The pictures from that time are fuzzy, as are my memories following that six hour surgery march 21st of 2012.
Nearly a year to the day after my surgery my wife Lola and I went back to the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha for another a quarterly checkup. "It still bring back this scary, kind of haunting feeling, " says Lola. Following the surgery I was at the hospital's Lied Transplant Center for nearly two months. A walk down the hallway brings us back to a very familiar place, the room where I spent nearly all of my first three weeks at Lied. Throughout my life a genetic disorder called "autoimmune hepatitis" had been slowly destroying my liver cells. Eventually it left me too weak to enjoy my grandchildren, too weak to work. It even evolved into blackouts that left me in a zombie-like state.
"Typically speaking an autoimmune person is a young woman usually in their 20's to 30's who presents with abnormal liver tests. So, you're an exception rather than the rule," says my doctor Timothy McCashland. He's the specialists who's been following me for about four years now. Dr. McCashland knows firsthand how hard it is to get a liver. He says right now about 15,000 people are on the waiting list for a liver transplant in the United States and there's about 6,000 transplants a year."
I was lucky enough to survive near deadly complications long enough to get on the transplant list. "It's like walking up to the cliff in some regards," adds McCashland. Then fairly quickly get a liver that worked for my blood type and body size. Periodic blood tests remain the window into my liver's current health. McCashland says my liver tests are awesome, but they just crept up a smidge in one place.
This day also includes a scan to check my bone density because I have a little higher risk of developing bone disease from the immunosuppression. My tests show things are normal. So far this first year has ended on a positive note. "You're prognosis is excellent." says McCashland. Hopefully I'll be among the more than 80 percent of autoimmune patients who live at least 10 years after their transplant.
Following my checkup Lola says, "your health is definitely different. Your mind is a lot more clear. I think our values, our perspective on life has changed a little bit." How true.