Living Liver Donation: Patti's Story
For Patti Jackson, the hardest part about becoming a living liver donor was not the surgery itself — it was convincing her brother and recipient to let her do it. “He was hesitant because he thought I was going to die,” says Patti of her brother, Kevin Paske. “I told him, ‘Well, what if I don’t donate and something happens to you?’ We’ll never know unless we try.” As it turned out, their surgeries went well, and now Patti, a Cross Plains, Wisconsin resident, has become a resource for other potential living liver donors.
Kevin, who suffered from non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver, would have had only three months to a year to live without a new liver. His MELD score — the system used to determine the level of illness and need — meant it would be some time before he could be placed on the wait list for a deceased donor liver. In the meantime, he would continue to become sicker. Receiving a portion of liver from a living donor meant he could receive a transplant much sooner. Kevin has a total of six siblings, each of whom wanted to be his donor, but after months of testing, Patti was the only match for her brother. “Kevin taught me patience — not only through all the testing, but also through my life today,” she says. “All I kept thinking was that it was not about the ‘award’ — reaching a goal. It was about the ‘reward’ that impacts your life when you give to somebody else.”
The surgery was on August 21, 2017, at University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. Her transplant team helped her through her recovery, which includes therapy to help her bounce back and prepare to return to her normal lifestyle. When she returned home, her son was there to care for her. He lives in New York City, but worked from Patti’s home for three weeks to be with her. Patti also had several friends take turns helping her during her recovery. “You don’t know how many friends you have until you go through something like this,” she says.
From the beginning of her extensive pre-donation testing, Patti wrote about her experience on Facebook, posting a picture of her and Kevin each month. Some people in her life, in fact, joined Facebook just so they could follow her story. “It encouraged people to talk about it more,” she says.
After the surgery, Kevin felt so much better after being ill for five years, says Patti. Instead of being jaundiced, he now had color in his face, and his grandchildren came up to Patti and thanked her for giving their grandpa the gift of life. “I didn’t do it for the thanks and praise,” she says. “I did it to give my brother hope and life.”