Next week is the first anniversary of Derek’s first transplant. For both of us, April is a month of emotion. We met in April, Derek proposed to me in April, and we both underwent a surgery in April that would change the course of both of our lives. It is hard to imagine that a year ago we were both mentally preparing for that surgery, wondering what the outcome would be, imagining life post-transplant. We knew rejection was a possibility–the doctors did a good job of preparing us for every possible outcome–but we weren’t really prepared for what would happen when it became clear my liver was not for Derek.
Here’s what Derek wrote a year ago, my emphasis added (read the whole post here):
The third meeting was with my surgeon, Dr. Pomposelli. It was my first time meeting him, and some of his first words were: “So, we have a busy day next Monday.” Yes, yes we do. My life will be in his hands. And so, he went on to explain the procedure; how Logan’s liver was perfect – he did actually say that – and how all the connections would be made once her liver is inside of my abdomen. He also went over some risks, such as hepatic artery thrombosis or HAT. Basically, the hepatic artery is finicky and only 2mm in diameter. The surgeon has to sew this small tube from Logan’s liver into my plumbing. If there’s a puncture or mistake, it could render the artery and potentially the liver graft useless. The risk is low, about 5% or less, and about half of those turn out ok. The other half, or 2.5%, would result in potential re-listing on the transplant list and all sorts of complications. After taking it all in, I repeated the message back to the surgeon to make sure I understood what he was saying: Four possible outcomes from worst to first (and the success is most likely, about 93% of the time): (1) Die on the operating table – “crash on takeoff” (2) HAT, and need a new liver – “skimming the treetops, and clip a wing” (3) HAT, but graft is ultimately successful – “skimming the treetops but gain altitude”, and (4) Successful graft – “graceful takeoff”. Again, the harsh reality is that successful organ replacement may hinge on the surgeon’s ability to sew tiny tubes together and nothing about this process is guaranteed.
I am most grateful I had the opportunity to be Derek’s first donor. While my major abdominal surgery was much different than Derek’s, I am thankful I have some idea of what the healing process was like. We shared an experience I would never want any couple to experience, but I think we are fortunate we had each other. Our individual coping mechanisms were put to the ultimate test, and our reliance on one another held strong.
As you’ve all witnessed, our physical recovery was surprisingly quick, and Derek’s was downright inspirational. Our psychological recovery however, is still in the early stages. We’ve both admitted to each other that we feel more fear and anxiety about the surgery now, then we felt in the days leading up to the surgery and waiting for the second transplant. It is fascinating how the mind manages to shield itself from insane levels of stress.