Never Give Up Hope

In this season of miracles, here’s a story about miracles I’ve lived and more miracles in the making.

When I had abnormal blood test results and other symptoms of liver disease as a child, over the course of several years doctors were unable to either name the specific disease or the underlying causation. They were able to address the symptoms, though, and so I lived on. Had my situation headed in the other direction and I required a liver transplant to save my life in 1959, well, I would have died. The first successful liver transplants were not done until 1967, when I was almost out of college. But research continued in the intervening years, procedures and equipment were perfected, and when my number was called (for life or death) in 2006, everything was in place to get me through and back to health.

After receiving a donated organ, whether a kidney, heart, lungs, liver – no matter what foreign tissue is implanted to sustain your life, the patient must be on a regimen of immunosuppressant drugs for the remainder of his/her life. Just as the processes of harvesting and transplanting organs were refined over the years, so were the anesthesias and pharmaceuticals. The early use of immunosuppressants after organ transplant impacted a recipient’s body like a shotgun, while today they’re more targeted, like a pistol. Nonetheless, every drug has its side effects and some are not what you’d like to endure the rest of your life.

I’ve been very, very lucky; the side effects of immunosuppressants I’ve had to put up with in the decade since my liver transplant have been relatively minor: a predisposition for skin cancers that keeps me from enjoying the great outdoors uncovered, the growth of a cataract that might have been put off, annoying sensitivity to some foods and spices. Other recipients have not been so blessed and have struggled with adult onset diabetes, neuropathy, blood pressure and heart/kidney issues.

Gary Levy
Gary Levy, Liver Specialist at University Health Network, Toronto, working on eliminating the need for immunosuppression for over 20 years.

Imagine then, how happy we all are to read about the ongoing search for transplantation without the need for post-op, chemical immune  system suppression.

In 2008 85% of people in the U.S. over age 65  were defined as having 1 one or more of six chronic conditions (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, cancer, or arthritis), 56% had two or more, and a full 23% suffer from three or more chronic conditions. Lots of people with reasons to find this article about how medical magic continues to evolve, a message of hope.