(as told by Sue’s daughter)
My parents had been together since high-school. They started out with little more than each other and their solid work ethic, and over the past 25 years built a comfortable life through determination, compassion, and love. When I was a senior in college I received a call from my grandmother. My Mother had been rushed to the local emergency room vomiting blood, and transferred to a hospital in Syracuse, NY as the condition proved uncontrollable. It was here that my Father and I were informed she would need a liver transplant.
My Mother’s condition was stabilized and doctors referred her the transplant program at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY. There, the three of us were exposed to the paradox of the UNOS national waiting list for organ transplants. The entire situation seemed dire at best and while the hospital staff tried to manage our expectations, we were left feeling that there was little hope. We sat together and listened to various doctors, nurses and even a psychologist explain that there were simply too many patients and too few organs.
Fortunately, liver transplants can be performed with live donors. Dad and I began to debate the question of who would be tested first. I was a healthy 21 year old athlete and, as her daughter, felt I would be the better candidate. Dad was in his mid-forties and of course, not a biological relative. I would be tested first.
After undergoing three days of medical testing, we found that I was not a viable candidate. Due to an irregular portal vein in my liver, the reconstructive surgery required for a transplant would be too extensive. This was another devastating blow to any hope we were clinging to. However, determined to leave no stone unturned in his effort to save my Mother, Dad was tested next. The results came in … almost unbelievably, he was a perfect match.
As all of this unfolded, I finished college and spent my summer coping with the realization that I would be sole caregiver to both parents as they recovered from the impending surgeries . I bought my Mom a puppy, whom she named Andy and spent every day with until the procedure. My parents’ transplant lasted from the early morning and well into the late hours of the evening on December 14th, 2004.
As a living donor, my Dad was the only ‘conscious’ patient in the ICU during his one-week recovery. Mom’s recovery did not go as well. She was hospitalized for three months, experiencing virtually every possible complication and side-effect. Every day, we drove an hour and a half to see her. She was in and out of medically induced comas, at times needing restraint, and baffling medical students who came to review her chart as part of their training. Dad and I spent Christmas Eve in a hotel and had our Christmas breakfast at IHOP that year.
A month or so into her recovery, Mom plateaued. She was able to move, but not making enough progress. Convincing the hospital to give her a day-pass, Dad wheeled my Mother to the car where I was waiting with Andy. She was elated and Andy had ‘anything but’ forgotten her. I believe that this one day of ‘normalcy’ (seeing her dog and eating a fast food lunch from Kentucky Fried Chicken together in our car) gave Mom the determination to accomplish the little victories that would lead her to recovery.
The biggest fear I had throughout, was not being able to share the milestone events of my life with my Mother. Now, it’s been 10 years since the transplant. Together she and my Father, (her living donor), have been here to see me build my career, marry the love of my life and give birth to their first grandchild.