Dave Eggers' Story
My family and I entered the huge and complex world of transplantation in January 1989 when the physicians at an Air Force hospital told my wife and me that what they first thought was a deadly cancer in my liver really was a disease that adversely affects the bile ducts called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC).
We were elated with the news until Byers Shaw, MD, and his team at the Nebraska Medical Center told us that without a liver transplant I would most certainly die.
"Die?" I said. "How could that be?" I obviously knew very little about transplantation, so in my ignorance and motivation to keep current as a B-1B, B-52 and potential B-2 instructor pilot in the Air Force, I said, "Fine, then get me a new liver and I should be good to go, right?" Not hardly. Dr. Shaw explained to us all the varied aspects of transplantation, like how people get placed on the waiting list, receive a new liver if they're lucky and about the post-operative challenges my family and I would face.
What really got our attention was that because of the shortage of organ donors and the slow progression of my disease, I probably wouldn't be listed for another eight to 10 years. We were a very scared family for the nine years following my PSC diagnosis. There weren't any people I knew who had had an organ transplant, so everything that mentally and physically happened to me before my transplant was very upsetting. We did not know much about transplantation. Once we got the facts about how few people actually donate their organs, how many people were already on the waiting list and how sick patients must be before actually transplanting, it was clear that my future was tenuous at best.
My wife keeps a very detailed diary of our experiences with my transplant. She and our kids were the ones who kept me motivated and as active as I could be before transplant. Our kids at the time of my transplant had only seen me well about half of their lives and barely remembered me as a healthy person. I appreciated their optimism and support, even though my health kept me from participating much in their lives at the times when I was really needed. I thank my wife for holding things together for all of us at home. We also thank our church family who continuously helped out and offered prayers for us.
As it turned out, Dr. Shaw's predictions were about right. I was grounded from flying in 1992 when my liver disease made me a Type II diabetic. I finally retired medically from the Air Force in June 1997. I immediately underwent a very extensive transplant evaluation at the Nebraska Medical Center. I was placed on its waiting list right after the evaluation. The arduous task of waiting began.
By the grace of God, I received my "gift of life" on April 17, 1998. I was fortunate to only have to wait 10 months on that list. I was released from the hospital in nine days and I was back to work full time only three months after surgery.
Thanks to my very generous donor, along with a transplant team second to none, I was present for our kids' college graduations. I experienced the thrill and honor of walking our daughter down the aisle at her wedding in 2001. I was present for the birth of our grandson, Rhys, in 2005. And, it was my honor again to be the best man for our son's wedding in 2006. In July 2008, my wife and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary. Obviously, none of this would have been possible without the generous gift from someone I never met. But, my story does not stop there.
In November 1998, the Nebraska Medical Center opened the Lied Transplant Center. I feel that God himself was giving me a call when I was asked if I would consider joining the staff to work with patients and families going through what we had just gone through. I accepted this opportunity, remembering very clearly how it was for me and my family and what I might be able to contribute to the care of these people. I could not think of a better way to honor the gift that I was given.
I have been working in this capacity for almost 10 years. I know I have touched many people's lives through my work. I take particular satisfaction in helping patients who are frustrated, scared and ready to give up. When I tell them that I am a recipient and can validate their concerns, they feel better about continuing their transplant journey. They really appreciate talking to someone who was a patient and seeing for themselves that transplants not only work but that life is definitely good after transplant! It is very rewarding to have the opportunity to participate in the "transplant miracle" at the Nebraska Medical Center almost every day.
I'm past my 10th year as a recipient and will ever remain thankful to my donor for giving me the "gift of life".