If you’re like us, you fuel your life with gourmet coffee. But we know life is more than just coffee. We’ve tagged Bohemian Coffee “Coffee for Life” because organ donation is something close to our family’s heart.
Sean is alive because he donated blood
Sean was the IT guy at the local hospital and regularly gave blood. After his last donation, the blood screening process revealed problems in Sean’s liver. After more tests, Sean was diagnosed with severe liver disease: primary sclerosing cholangitis, a fatal liver condition where inflammation and scar tissue destroy the liver’s bile ducts.
Sean was told he had 2 years to live if he didn’t get a liver transplant. When primary sclerosing cholangitis is diagnosed early, the likelihood of transplant success increases. Because Sean donated blood regularly, his condition was diagnosed.
Theresa, one of eight siblings, volunteered to be tested to be a donor and was found to be a match. Others in the family volunteered as well, but Theresa was deemed the best candidate. “I knew that donating part of my liver wouldn’t be an easy surgery, but this was something that I wanted to do and something I knew I had to do,” says Theresa.
Everyone in Sean’s small town offered support. The town did a chili dinner fundraiser to help with the expenses of the surgery. “People came out of the woodwork,” Sean remembers. The sense of community and support was overwhelming.
Organ donation brought us closer
Transplant surgeons took 68% of Theresa’s liver to replace Sean’s diseased liver. “After I had the surgery and was off the pain medication, I felt almost like I did during the first trimester of my pregnancies,” Theresa confides. “Instead of a baby, my body was re-creating my liver.”
Livers are pretty fascinating. Not only do livers filter toxins from the body, they also play the key role in metabolism, storing nutrients for when the body needs them. Livers are the only internal organ that can rejuvenate themselves. In fact, livers can regenerate from just 25% of the original tissue.
The transplant was done at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, 12 hours from Sean’s home in North Dakota and more than 15 hours from Theresa’s home in Colorado.
“I remember after the surgery, they wheeled me to Sean’s room. I noticed his skin didn’t look yellow anymore. It was healthy and pink,” recalls Theresa. “He grabbed my hand. We didn’t say a word, but we felt such a closeness I knew would never be broken.”
The recovery took weeks. Sean required careful monitoring of his chemistry panels and immunosuppressant medication to prevent his body from rejecting the foreign liver. From the hospital Sean and Theresa were transferred to a transplant house in Rochester. A dedicated caregiver was required, and since Sean was going through a divorce and was 12 hours from his hometown, brothers and sisters took turns flying to Rochester for a week at a time to care for Sean during his recovery.
It was a difficult experience for both Sean and Theresa. Because his immune system is suppressed, Sean is more susceptible to harmful bacteria and viruses. A few months after the transplant, Sean suffered a life-threatening case of Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection. Theresa had other medical complications that left her out of commission from her young family for nearly a year.
Donation is a process of truly giving of yourself to help another live. It’s exhilarating and humbling. Painful and joyful. It was touching to see how many people came together to help both Sean and Theresa.
Mostly, it was an ennobling experience to share life. Though Sean and Theresa share the deepest of bonds, they also realize other similarities after the surgery: Sean says he’s more emotional after the transplant, and now loves red licorice and shopping like Theresa does!
Some people shy away from the ideas of organ donation. They feel it may be sacrilegious, an offense to the body, or even just plain creepy. It’s understandable. Even people with the strongest stomach get squeamish thinking of medical procedures. But organ donation can impact lives in so many amazing ways. It’s not just the person receiving the organ whose life is preserved. Everyone who comes in contact with that person can be touched. Think of the children, future children, mothers, fathers, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, coworkers, and even strangers who will all be touched because one person donated life! “If there’s a way to save someone’s life, why not do it?” asks Theresa, who, of course, has checked YES on her driver’s license to being an organ donor.
Sean explains it best, “I am alive today because my sister is courageous enough to have donated 68% of her liver to replace mine. Heroes are ordinary people who do exceptional things under extraordinary circumstances. Theresa is my hero, but she is anything but ordinary.”
At Bohemian Coffee Club, we celebrate all the lives that have been saved through donation, and honor all the heroes who have donated organs or who have registered to be organ donors. You are extraordinary.