September 6th marks the second birthdate for my husband, Hecky. It is the day six years ago that he was the recipient of a living donor liver transplant. Receiving a new liver gave him a second chance at life – an opportunity denied to many people who are on organ transplant lists. In celebration of his good fortune, Hecky honors two birthdays annually, Sept. 6th and Nov. 6th.
Hecky’s journey to receiving a new liver is one neither of us will ever forget. It began in January 2011 when he came home from work early complaining about what he thought were flu like symptoms and went to bed. In hindsight, I should have called the paramedics immediately because in the nearly forty years I have known Hecky, I can count on one hand the number of times he has ever come home early or mentioned not feeling well. He made light of his illness, but knowing the rarity of this occurrence, I followed him upstairs to make certain he was okay.
Walking into the bathroom I noticed blood specks on the tile floor. When I asked him if he had coughed up blood, he responded, ‘a little.’ Without hesitation, I told him we were going to see his doctor and the next morning, we did just that.
Arriving at his doctor’s office, the nurse gave us the first indication that something was seriously wrong. Usually a very jovial person, her demeanor became quite subdued when she took Hecky’s blood pressure and then told us that the doctor would be right in. His physician came in moments after her departure, dispensed with the usual pleasantries, and confirmed the nurse’s blood pressure readings. Turning to me, he asked if I could quickly drive to the nearest hospital emergency room or if I needed him to call an ambulance.
At the hospital, a series of tests determined that Hecky was in liver failure and that there were two large tumors on his liver. The diagnosis was grim; when questioned one doctor went so far as to say that people in my husband’s condition didn’t live much longer than six to seven months. I was shocked wondering how someone could appear to be fine one day and in danger of dying in a relatively short period of time the next.
Hecky never accepted the sobering diagnosis. His strong faith and natural optimism simply didn’t allow him to. He told one doctor that as long as his name wasn’t ‘Dr. God’ that he was going to be just fine. This unshakeable resolve saw him through the challenging nine months between his diagnosis, his initial ineligibility to receive a new liver, and finally being placed on the transplant list.
During those difficult months there were many days when Hecky’s life hung in the balance, but he hung on to his steadfast beliefs despite all the odds. His survival and recovery are still discussed among the staff at the transplant center. One of his doctors told me that just seeing how well Hecky recovered despite the initial diagnosis renewed her spirits when treating other severely ill liver cancer patients. I believe I witnessed a miracle.
Every September 6th I am reminded that we can’t have enough birthdays and I am grateful.
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