Liver transplant

Veteran Jason Arbogast given a new purpose after liver transplant

Headshot of a man in glasses, smiling in front of the American flag.

There were a couple of times in Jason Arbogast’s life when he wasn’t sure he would have a future at all.

The first was when he was injured by friendly fire while stationed with the U.S. Army in the Persian Gulf. In that instance, he was transported back to the United States but haunted by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The second was when he was battling end-stage liver disease that occurred as a result of alcohol use. At one point, he thought he was going home from the hospital to die—but at the last minute, he was given the opportunity for a liver transplant at William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. He received the transplant on Sept. 3, 2020. “I consider that my rebirthday,” he said. “I just wanted to live.”

Addiction and the gift of life

Jason served in the infantry during Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s. He was lying on his cot in his tent when a private who was teaching a class accidentally deployed an anti-tank rocket. It exploded and the shrapnel hit 14 people. “I saw some horrific stuff that day,” said Jason.

After leaving the Army, Jason worked for a factory for 20 years, and in his 30s, he started to develop an alcohol problem. That led to a divorce, the loss of a job and wrecked cars. By 2020, Jason—who was living in the Minneapolis area—was hospitalized because of fluid retention, and doctors diagnosed him with advanced liver disease. “They told me that if I had another drink, I would die,” he said. “The pain was indescribably bad.”

So, Jason stopped drinking and began the hard work of recovery.

He was receiving treatment at the Veterans Administration hospital in Minneapolis when he was stunned to learn that his caregivers were transferring him to the Madison VA to be evaluated for a liver transplant. Once he got there, doctors talked to him and decided he would be a good candidate for a transplant, which he received in September.

While Jason calls Sept. 3 his “rebirthday,” it still wasn’t enough to completely turn his life around. While he had been sober before his transplant, by December 2020, he was drinking again as a result of his ongoing PTSD and depression. “I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s part of my journey, too,” he said.

“A purpose in life”

As Jason was undergoing the slow physical recovery from his transplant, he was back to recovering from his addiction, as well. He found a group called Every Third Saturday, a veterans organization in Minneapolis that helps veterans find purpose after military service. Through the group, Jason became sober again and started his path to becoming a certified peer recovery specialist in the state of Minnesota.

In the meantime, he reconnected with a childhood girlfriend on Facebook and moved to Madison to be with her. He got a job at the Madison VA as a peer support apprentice, and now he finds himself working alongside the very people who helped him on his journey before and after transplant.

Jason and his fiancé, Sharon, plan to get married in summer 2024, and he hopes to be fully certified as a peer recovery specialist soon.

“Now I wake up and I have a purpose in life, and a reason to get up,” he said. “This is exactly what I was meant to do. This was why God showed me grace.”