Liver Transplant: Brian's Story
The following article was written by UW Hospital and Clinics liver transplant patient Brian Brandt.
My liver transplant took place on August 12, 2011. Aside from the date of my birth, it's the most important day of my life. Immediately following my transplant I felt I was the luckiest man in America. Months later I still felt I was nationally ranked. This story is about my illness, the transplant experience, and my recovery.
Eight years ago, my family doctor noticed I was suffering from ascites, the accumulation of fluid in my body core, most likely a result of a malfunctioning liver. It was not adequately filtering my bodily fluids and blood. He suggested having my esophagus "scoped" to determine if pressure was building in my veins. I ignored his advice and life went on, sort of.
That was until the day I passed out. A vein had ruptured in my esophagus. I could have bled to death, but my daughter called the paramedics and the doctors were able to seal off the vein below the rupture. The message was clear. I had a serious liver problem.
I went to a highly reputable teaching hospital in Chicago, but my disease continued to progress. My ascites continued to worsen as my liver function deteriorated. I was having paracentesis (removal of the fluid by a vacuum process) performed twice a week prior to my transplant. Each time they would remove six to eight liters of fluid. I couldn't bend over to tie my shoes. Good thing for loafers.
Finally the doctors at the Chicago hospital decided I had NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepititis). In spite of their diagnosis, I was not happy with my care or the level of service. The hospital preferred a living donor transplant and finding a donor was up to me. They finally put me on their transplant list, but not until the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics put me on theirs. Here is how it happened.
Before the Transplant
In early March of 2011 a friend of mine stopped by. He told me he thought I was quite ill - no joke. My friend put me in contact with his friend, who was connected to medical development at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.
Upon hearing my story, his friend invited me to Madison to meet with members of the transplant program. I accepted the invitation. He left me with words I will never ever forget. "You are now part of our family."
That set the tone for my experience at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. They made me feel like a member of their family at every turn.
At our first meeting in late March, my wife and I met with nine or 10 doctors and staff members, one-on-one. They accepted me as a patient and assigned a transplant coordinator to me, and said they would consider me for addition to the list.
June and July were dreadful. I was often carrying around as much as 25 pounds of excess fluid. Toxins, which normally would have filtered out of my system by my liver, were instead building up in my entire body, including my brain. I had become a miserable person who was often unkind and even mean to others. My daughter, a college junior in Pennsylvania, gave up her summer to care for me. It was not an easy task. I know she felt unappreciated. It's what I regret most.
To my joy, things progressed. Sometime in late spring, I was added to the transplant list. That in itself was cause for celebration. On August 3, we had our regularly scheduled meeting in Madison. Given the number of liver patients on the list, I figured I had at least a three-month wait. I was determined to hang in there until my number came up.
I didn't have to wait that long. On Friday August 12, the phone rang at 1:30am. The nighttime coordinator asked if I could be in Madison in four hours. I said yes, of course. She said, "We have a liver for you."
Words cannot express my joy in hearing that. It is still hard for me to believe. I become very emotional every time I relive the conversation.
After our three-hour drive, we arrived in Madison at 6am. That morning I met the surgeons, the anesthesiologists, and the nurses, and was put on an IV around 12:30pm.
The next thing I remember was awaking in the ICU. It was nearly 7pm. The surgery was more than six hours long, a normal time. Besides some discomfort below my ribs, I told the doctors I felt fine, but a little tired.
I spent 24 hours in the ICU. Early Saturday evening I moved to general recovery.
Recovery in the Hospital
I had a good time. That may sound strange, but everything went so well. There were always nice people to talk with - the doctors, the nurses and assistants, lab technicians, pharmacists, social workers, everybody.
I had to go to class every day, with other transplant patients to learn about ways to ensure our recovery and longevity.
Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday passed quickly. I had been told the post-transplant hospital stay would probably be a week or two, but by Wednesday evening, I was in my kitchen in Glencoe making a sandwich.
Recovery at Home
Pills, pills, and more pills - morning, noon and night. I was forever swallowing the 39 pills prescribed. They are critical to a successful recovery as is the prescribed diet.
Today all my numbers are still in range due to adjustments in my medications and diet. I am down to 12 pills a day and one blood test per week. I will always take anti-rejection drugs and have a blood test each month - a small price to pay to ensure my healthy liver continues to like its new home.
I have enjoyed an added benefit. Prior to surgery I was a Type 2 diabetic taking four insulin shots daily. I still test three or four times a day. Rarely is my blood sugar out-of-range. I don't take insulin shots or oral medication anymore.
The biggest factor in my recovery has been the support of my family and friends. My wife, who I am surprised did not leave me during my "mean" phase, sets out my pills with my meal every day. She is constantly watching me to ensure I am doing all that I am supposed to do to live a long, healthy life. My daughter gave up her summer to care for me and drive me to my appointments. It's not how a 20-year-old would have chosen to spend her summer vacation. I will be forever grateful for her sacrifice.
I want to thank my friend for introducing me to his friend, who in turn introduced me to the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. Also, I am indebted to all the staff members at UW Hospital, who without exception were professional, compassionate and kind. I thank my friends, many of whom I had not seen or talked to in years. And, of course, a special thanks to my family.
However, I am most indebted to my anonymous donor and the family. During a time of stress, someone made a very important decision. That decision was the beginning of my new life. I have written the family, through the hospital's process, to express my gratitude and report my progress. To my donor I say, "I will honor your gift by taking care of myself and the part of me that was once you."
It is the best way I can repay the debt.
I hope this story has been informative and helpful to those of you who are considering, anticipating or recovering from transplant. I feel the good news for you is that you are at the right place!
Today, my wife and I look forward to our visits to the hospital and clinics. The people and the surroundings have become dear to us. As my recovery progresses, our trips are becoming less frequent. This saddens me, but I am thankful the memories will never fade.