Dad got the gift of life for Christmas
June 12, 2008 · Updated 9:57 AM
"Dad thought this was going to be his last Christmas.Truth be told, we did, too. But we still hoped and prayed, anyway, just as we had all year. When the phone jangled unexpectedly one night last week, my heart leaped, then sank. Was it going to be good news or bad? Hello, I said unsteadily, sleep still clogging my voice.Hi, honey, dad said.Thank goodness.Well, theyve found a liver for me, he said. So I guess I am going up to the hospital now.Really?Really, dad confirmed, his tone clearer and steadier than it had been in years.I dont remember hanging up the phone, but I do remember thinking as my husband and I rushed out the door, Dad has a chance now. Hes got a chance.In 1984, doctors diagnosed my father, Robert Crumley, with cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis causes the liver to scar, thereby inhibiting its ability to function. There is no cure and, unless a liver transplant is performed, the result is death. Cirrhosis is most often diagnosed in alcoholics or in those infected by hepatitis. The cause of my fathers disease is unknown. For the most part, dad led a normal life following his diagnosis. He just stopped drinking alcohol altogether, watched what he ate and exercised. He continued his work as a junior high school math teacher. And he waited.Seven years ago, dad was rushed to the hospital because of uncontrollable, internal bleeding. It becomes increasingly difficult for blood to get pumped through a scarred liver. So it backs up and usually bleeds into the esophagus or stomach.Doctors at Virginia Mason in Seattle ultimately plugged up torn, varicose veins in his esophagus. Though the treatment was successful and would continue over the years, it wasnt a solution. Dad needed a new liver.The rub was, at 57, he was considered too old to get on the waiting list. So my family and I tried to put it out of our minds. Miraculously, transplant rules eventually changed, making it possible for people of my dads age to get one. On the day after Christmas 1998, dad was again admitted to the hospital because toxins overwhelmed his system--toxins that are normally cleaned out by a healthy liver. Dad finally got on the liver transplant waiting list four months later, joining nearly 11,000 others nationwide.Sure, he was on the list, but University of Washington Medical Center doctors said it could take anywhere from six months to two years to get a transplant. We worried dad might not make it that long, considering more than 1,200 people died in 1998 waiting for a liver transplant. While transplant lists have grown in recent years, the number of donors hasnt, so theres no guarantee.Meanwhile, doctors discovered a tumor on dads liver. If it grew too large, a transplant would never be possible.Just as dads muscles nearly disintegrated over the last year, his hope had, too. His wrists got as skinny as mine. His skin turned a yellowish hue, and he soon gave up trying to read the paper. He was always cold. After 12 hours of sleep, hed get up only because he had to take his medicine and make breakfast. By that time, he was ready for a nap.Id never seen an older 64-year-old.We want to make this Christmas really special for dad, mom told me earlier that week over the phone. When I told him we could look forward to having two toddlers (grandchildren) around next Christmas, he said Hon, Im not going to be around next Christmas.But then the other call came in the middle of the night.My husband and I and my brother and sister and their spouses rushed to the UW Medical Center, breathless, filled with hesitant optimism. This is what wed been waiting for.Eighteen hours later, we finally learned doctors could in fact go through with the transplant operation. The tumor wasnt going to be a problem.Dad pulled through the operation in good form. His blood pressure and heart rate could make any 20-year-old jealous. He made it out of the intensive care unit days before what was expected, and hes not in any pain.For the first time in 15 years, he complained about being too warm. His cheeks are pink, too. And he might just make it home for Christmas. His overall prognosis is good.When I look at him, I smile and think disbelievingly, Wow. He finally got his chance.That chance was provided by an unknown Alaskan man who died the night before. Strange to think that as my family rejoices, another is grieving. But as one doctor put it, that person would have died, anyway. Because he was an organ donor, some measure of good came out of his death. Had he not been a donor, nothing good would have come out of it all."