What would you do for a brother?

One day last October I was sitting at my parent’s kitchen table having a coffee with them. We were talking about this ‘n that, when the conversation turned toward my brother, Gary. My mother was telling me that Gary had been spending a lot of time at their place as he was not doing so well. Due to some poor lifestyle choices Gary’s liver is permanently damaged now and was not doing what a liver is supposed to do. My Mom had been helping him arrange his meetings and doctor appointments required prior to being placed on the liver transplant list. So not being very knowledgeable on the subject I got to asking questions about livers and transplants, where, why, and how. I learned that if Gary was placed on the transplant list it could be a matter of time before a matching liver would become available, OR somebody (not her or my dad as they are both too old) could donate a portion of their liver. So again not being very knowledgeable on the subject I asked if it was something that I could do. Mom’s first question was”why would you want to?” My first answer was “why wouldn’t I want to?”. And there it was decided, I told her to look into whatever the first step was for me to become a living liver donor.

Rather than telling my brother the new news right away Ma said that I should look into it a little bit, and maybe discuss it with my wife Cathy as liver donation is a fairly big deal. Cathy and I did talk about it a bit that night and she started searching the internet for some knowledge on the subject. I thought it didn’t matter what the internet said because Cathy was the most understanding and supportive wife in the world that would stand beside me no mater what, and we would do this thing together. After all this is not the first time this procedure has been performed and if someone else can do it, well so can we.

It was October 18th, Gary’s birthday, when I called him and told him that I intended on giving him a portion of my liver. He was thrilled to say the least–just the thought of receiving a liver in the nearer future than waiting at the bottom of the transplant list. And just like that it had begun. The first step was handed to me within a week or so, it consisted of 40 some pages of reading material and a 14 page application for becoming a Living Liver Donor from Toronto General Hospital. I was only on page 2 or 3 of the reading when I came to the spot it said that even a light smoker should quit if they wanted to become a donor. My mother was right this was going to be a fairly big deal. Having smoked a pack or a pack and a half a day for the last 40 years how hard could it be to quit? Not much more reading also revealed the need to quit drinking. So no smoking and no drinking, no problem I can do it, and I did, its been almost 3 months now and I have yet to have a drink or smoke since that night. The drinking wasn’t hard to give up but the smoking…. I am still struggling with that every day and hope it will soon get easier.

After submitting all the necessary paper work and blood work the transplant team at TGH made their first contact with me on Dec 23rd for a Dec 27th appointment in Toronto. Not being a very busy time of year I thought Cathy and I could attend no problem at all. Over the next couple of weeks we attended that day full of appointments and 4 other days of appointments at TGH and across the street at the Princess Margaret Hospital. There’s a fair amount of testing required to this, I now know my way around TGH fairly well and I could tell you where you go for X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and at least three different places within the hospital they take blood–man it seems like I have given a lot of blood. Only two more days of tests and appointments with assorted members of the transplant team scheduled for next week and if everything was OK we even had a tentative date set in the middle of February for the surgery to take place.

Then two days ago shortly after having supper I received a phone call from my parents saying that they just received a phone call from TGH stating they had a liver for Gary and to bring him up right away. I don’t know how the waiting list goes for transplants but what a surprise that phone call was after such a short time on the list. As my mom is 78 and my dad 80 I thought it might be better if I drove the 280 km to TGH. I was first to arrive at the central meeting place in Kingston (Tim Horton’s) and phoned my parents to ask if any of them wanted a beverage for our upcoming journey. After ordering coffees I stood at the counter and got the true meaning of LOL as I caught myself literally laughing out loud as I realized that it was on Gary’s birthday that I offered him my liver and it was today my birthday that he gave it back, or at least that he may not be needing it any more. That was quite a trip to Toronto because you just don’t know how fast you should drive. Most of us have driven in the fast lane at some time or another to get a loved one or family member to a hospital or emergency department, but how fast should you drive for a liver transplant? I probably shouldn’t say how fast I drove that night but I did shave about an hour off the usual time.

The four of us arrived at TGH just before 10pm and after a night of checking and testing Gary; he was rolled toward the operating room at around 7am. It was sometime around 2 in the afternoon that we were informed the transplant was successful and Gary would be moved to the ICU on the 10th floor. What an awesome outcome to an amazing couple of months.

Since I will no longer be Gary’s potential living liver donor my contact person at TGH has cancelled all my appointments for next week except one that she says I should keep. With the extensive testing preformed on me they discovered something wrong with my adrenal glands. It may be nothing who knows, or it could be the start of another adventure.

So I guess the big question is what would you do for your brother? Would you offer him a body part? If you did would you be able to carry through with it to the end? I’m really glad that I didn’t have to donate after all, but I still have two other brothers so you never know. Thanks for taking the time to read this and thanks to all my family members, without their support I couldn’t even have considered being a donor. Also thank you to all the people involved at TGH, those folks are very good at what they do and I can’t say enough good things about them.

One last thing for you to consider would be organ donation either living or deceased you have the ability to give the gift of life and should think about it. Thanks again!