Rewind to July 1997. My dad started to slow down. His energy was slipping away from him. His skin and whites of his eyes turned yellow. And he was retaining liters of fluid in his stomach. One trip to the doctor, and we found out my dad had “end-stage liver disease.” Twelve years before that, Hepatitis C made its way into one of the units of blood my dad received to treat a bleeding ulcer.
Over those 12 years, Hepatitis C destroyed my dad’s liver, and now, he was trying to function on less than a quarter of it. The only hope for him to survive: a liver transplant.
My dad was put on the waiting list in August 1997. My 14-year-old self tried not to think about it, but I knew what would happen if he did not get a transplant.
In September 1997, my dad’s health did a cliff dive, and he took up residence on the 11th floor of the Cleveland Clinic so he could be monitored constantly.
I spent the next few weekends traveling back and forth from Toledo to Cleveland. Every trip, my dad would look worse than he did the week before. He used to be so full of life, but Hepatitis C turned him into a frail, yellow man who couldn’t even walk. My dad was dying, and there was nothing I could do.
Then, on November 5, 1997 – my mom’s birthday – a miracle happened. He got “the call.” A liver was available for him. At 2 a.m., he called the Omni Hotel, where my mom, sister and I were staying, to give us the news. After the three of us crazily screamed and jumped up and down on our hotel beds, we headed across the street and back to what felt like our new home, the Cleveland Clinic.
To keep myself occupied during his surgery, Grandma and Grandpa bought me countless fuzzy velvet posters to color from the gift shop. I also showed off my bubble letter making talent to brighten up several patients’ rooms on the 11th floor with get well wishes. All of this coloring was taking place while “The Silence of the Lambs” repeatedly aired on the TV in the waiting area. Why I never asked someone to change the channel, I’ll never know!
Back to my dad. After his 13-hour surgery, he started looking like himself again.
A few weeks later, my dad returned home, and he has been making the most of his second chance at life ever since. He co-hosts K100’s Shores & Steele, a number-one morning radio show in Toledo, and he uses that platform to spread the word about the importance of organ, eye and tissue donation.
I blame my dad for my career – in a good way – because witnessing what someone and their family did for my dad in what must have been the most horrific time in their lives inspired me to try to give back by working at Life Connection of Ohio.
Donor family members: I hope you know how grateful recipients and their families are for your incredible selflessness. It is because of people like you and your loved ones that I have been able to have my dad in my life for the past 17 years. I heard someone say once that the most difficult letter to write is to your donor family. It’s true. “Thank you” will never be enough. But I am thankful every single day.
I will forever be grateful to the 60-year-old high school electronics teacher from southern Ohio whose liver saved my dad’s life and allowed him to have 17 more years and counting.
– Kara Steele