Healing My Liver

liver transplant experience hepatitis C
The experience is not a walk in the park, however when you see and experience what medicine does and what the body can and does do to heal, it is reason to be grateful.
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My daughter was born fifty years ago on April 26, 1964. When I woke up after the delivery I was told that they could not stop me from bleeding and I was now receiving pints of blood into my system. I was a young and healthy twenty-three-year old and continued to be so with no ill effects from the blood until many years later. In the 1960's hepatitis C was not known and blood was not tested for it at that time.

 In the 1970's I embarked on a lifelong practice of eating a natural and healthy diet, living a healthy lifestyle, and developed a mind /body healthy awareness. Over many years I got to see and know that the ongoing effect of a healthy life style provides a positive, consistent, cumulative and ongoing effect in the vitality and health of the body. I did not know it in those years, but these habits turned out to be a huge benefit in my life, in my experience with hepatitis C and with a liver transplant.

It wasn't until the late 1980’s when the testing of blood began and hepatitis C was discovered to have infected many people with tainted blood.

In 1991 after having a routine physical and blood workup, I was told that I had hepatitis C.  I was healthy and symptom free until about 2007 when I felt an unusual weight gain and bloating, particularly in my midsection. This is a result of excess water build up from the malfunctioning liver and it is called ascites. It was at that time that I began to be treated at UCSD (University of California San Diego) liver clinic.

The excess water was dealt with and never was a problem again. I was closely monitored with blood tests, MRI'S and a variety of other tests. I, as well as the doctor, decided that for me, taking the Interferon medicine, which at that time was the protocol to rid the body of the virus, was not recommended.

Three years passed with no significant changes in the status of my liver or progression of the virus. In November of 2010, I turned seventy and that year was the beginning of my interesting and challenging experience in the world of transplant medicine.  The week of my seventh birthday I got a call from the hospital saying they wanted me to go for another MRI so they could re-examine some suspicious spots they saw in my liver.

It turned out that what they saw were extremely small cancer cells.  It is not uncommon with liver disease and about twenty-five percent of people with cirrhosis of the liver develop cancer.

Over the next eight months the UCSD liver clinic and hepatology doctors kept an ongoing watch on the progression of the hepatitis C virus and the size of the cancer cells. By August of 2011 the doctors determined that due to my numbers (this is how the degree of severity is determined) I would be put on the transplant list. I had the impression, as I believe most people have, that waiting for an organ that is the right size and blood type for you, can be a long and stressful experience. I was told it could be a year or more before I was fortunate to get a new liver.

Up to this stage of my care and functioning health I was doing well and I did not feel ill or debilitated. I still attribute my general health, function and feeling well to the years of a cumulative healthy lifestyle and positive mental attitude.

It was then in October 2011 when the doctors tried to eradicate the cancer cells with a process called chemo-embolization. That knocked me on my rear for three months. It was not successful and they tried it again in January 2012.

I had this worrisome thought about how many times and what other invasive procedures they would try before I could ever get the transplant.

With my thoughts in the future and belief in the length of time it was supposedly going to take for a liver to show up, and not having any idea of what one goes through in a  transplant, I was totally unprepared for the phone call. The following is exactly what my experience was when I got that call on February 15, 2012.

The phone rang as it always did, yet this was very different. Her voice was direct and said “get down here as soon as possible, we have a liver for you.” Shocked and unprepared as I was, it caught me by such a surprise. I was on the transplant list for only six short months.

I needed a ride and called each one of my three children, over and over and over again, but to my dismay no one answered.  So I called my friend and savior Liz, and she picked me up. The hospital was about an half hour south of home and as we got to the entrance of the freeway, my phone rang and yes, this was very different again. Her voice was very solemn and apologetic. She said, “I am so sorry, but turn around and go home; this transplant is not going to happen.” In complete disbelief and internal turmoil we turned around.

I was home no longer than forty-five minutes, when yes, my phone rang again. Her voice this time was uplifting and excited.  She said “You are not going to believe this but Dr. Hemming fought like the devil to get you this liver, so get down here as soon as possible, we do have the liver for you.” Although it all was a very surreal experience, it finally was beginning to feel like the stars were in order and I was being looked after, and then my phone rang again.  In my continuing out of body experience and shock I heard my son say “what’s going on mom?” All I could say was “please come here quickly and pick me up”.

The next morning on February 16, 2012, I began my life on a new healing trajectory. I was blessed with a young and healthy liver donated by a family whose eleven-year-old son unfortunately lost his life in a freak accident while playing. Added to my karmic experience and extraordinary circumstances, the day I received this liver from an eleven-year-old boy, it was my grandson’s eleventh birthday.

I am saddened by this boy’s loss so young, blessed to have his youthful spirit to embrace, and grateful every day for this miracle.

The transplant experience and wonderful care from the transplant team and doctors at UCSD hospital was amazing. Everyone was so loving and caring including the support I had from my family and friends. 

With ongoing healing and adjustments with medication, it took me over a year before I began to get my strength and vitality back and feel like my old self again.

The experience is not a walk in the park, however when you see and experience what medicine does and what the body can and does do to heal, it is reason to be grateful.

Now, fifty years later after I believe I contracted the virus through blood transfusions when I delivered my daughter, the scientists and pharmaceutical companies developed, tested and now have available new, safe, and non-invasive drugs to eradicate the hepatitis C virus with a 90-98 percent success rate. The medical communities who deal with the liver, hepatitis diseases and transplants, are very excited about this terrific new development in treating and eradicating the disease.

Again looking at the events, karma, luck, whatever it may be in the circumstances of my experience, I can't help but mention that I started taking these pills that eradicated the virus from my system the very same day my daughter had her fiftieth birthday. I am now free of the hepatitis disease and now five years later I have a healthy functioning young liver.  

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