Liver transplant

After planning for the end, Irene Stietz now plans for the future

Irene Stietz smiling indoors

In the spring of 2021, Irene Stietz was so sick with liver failure, she and her husband James started making arrangements in case the unthinkable happened. They both bought headstones and Irene even began working on a draft of her obituary.

But fortunately, Irene received the gift of life with a new liver at University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, and now the 61-year-old is enjoying her days with her grandchildren.

She first knew something was wrong in 2000, when she tried to donate blood and the American Red Cross sent her a letter stating she couldn’t give blood again and needed to see her doctor. Some time after that, she saw a gastroenterologist, who found a medication that worked for nearly two decades until Irene’s fluid buildup was too much for her to handle.

In September 2020, Irene had to quit her job in hospice and home care because she was too sick. “I would go to work, come home and lie on the couch for the rest of the night, because I was just too tired,” she says.

At that time, she started seeing Michael Lucey, MD, gastroenterologist and medical director of the liver transplant program at UW Health. Dr. Lucey determined Irene’s liver was so bad that her kidney had stopped functioning properly, too, and he hospitalized her and got her on the wait list for a liver transplant. Just a few weeks later on June 4, 2021, she received her miracle.

“When they called me and asked when I could be in Madison for my new liver, I said, ‘Oh my God, I love you! Thank you so much,’” she says.

In the hospital, Irene’s caregivers helped her every step of the way—through both her surgery and her recovery. “They were all just excellent,” she says. “It was awesome.”

It has now been several months since Irene’s transplant, and she feels like a new woman. She walks more than a mile up a hill to where her husband works on a farm, she cares for her grandchildren and she goes about the routines of life like any normal, healthy woman.

“The only thing I would love to do,” she says, “is meet my donor’s family and be able to tell them face to face how much this means to me.”