One year ago, a dear friend, Tina McCurley, was diagnosed with liver disease. Those close to her knew something wasn’t right, and Tina tended to dismiss it, but the diagnosis brought it home. The decline of Tina’s health began slowly, but soon picked up speed.
Condensing the story a bit, within 6 months, Tina was on a donor list for a liver transplant.
There are basically two types/sources of transplants, cadaver transplants and living donor transplants. Of the two, the cadaver source is the most frequently used for obvious reasons.
Of the two though, the live transplant is the best option.
Tina’s story is a chill-up-the-spine story…….a story which highlights the good in people and renews faith in humanity. It did mine anyway.
On October 17, a group of Denton High School graduates met at the Greenhouse restaurant for a spur of the moment reunion. People trickled in, swapped stories, told lies and caught up………. At some point my dear friend, Patti Pennington came in followed by someone I didn’t recognize …….at first. It was Tina of course, and having not seen her in a few months, I was stunned. First of all, the bubbly, outgoing, vivacious woman I knew was not there. The person I saw was extremely thin, walked slowly, spoke with a quiver, looked 30 years older than she is and was very pale. I seriously did not recognize her until she sat down.
I spent the next hour talking only to her. She told me the basics of what was going on, but only what she wanted to……or maybe just what she knew. Another friend of mine, an RN walked Tina out to the car that night. When she came back in, she told me that she thought Tina had less than 6 months to live without a transplant. I didn’t think that was an option.
The next day I began to snoop. It turns out that Tina was on a cadaver transplant list, which would require her being at Baylor Hospital in Dallas within 45 minutes of the death of the “donor”. An iffy proposition at best. Additionally, Tina’s son-in-law, Jarett Monschke, was being assessed to be a living donor. The assessment is rather time-consuming, requiring a lengthy psychological evaluation and two days of physical testing, some of it invasive. At the time, they didn’t know how long it would take to determine if Jarett was a match.
Jarett is an angel.
Well, after hearing the unofficial, yet dire prognosis by my friend and knowing everything was being done to get a transplant, I thought of one more very desperate long shot……..a real long shot. I went to Facebook. In a post, I gave the bare basics of Tina’s story and asked if anyone might consider, or know anyone who might consider, donating 40% of their liver to someone they most likely didn’t know.
With a live donation, 40 % of the liver is donated and within a very short period of time, both the patient and the donor regenerate full, healthy livers. The transplant is, of course, major surgery and requires up to two MONTHS to recover. I didn’t have much hope….well, truth be told, I had no hope of anyone responding, but it was worth a try.
Less than an hour after making the post, a private message popped up from someone I’d met long ago, but not someone I really knew. The someone was Kelli Conway. Kelli lives in Ft. Worth, but used to live in Denton. Kelli asked for more information about the entire transplant process. I told her what I knew about the matching procedure and then the massive ordeal of the actual surgery and recovery.
Without asking anything about Tina, Kelli said “I’d be happy to be tested and if I’m a match, I will donate”.
I was God-smacked. I asked her if she was positive. Without hesitation Kelli said, “Of course! If I can help save a life, why wouldn’t I?”
I am NEVER at a loss for words, but then……….I was. I remember calling her an angel and thanking her, but I had a thousand things suddenly running through my head and the rest of the conversation is a blur. I was truly bumfuzzled that someone could be so selfless, so generous, so kind, so incredibly caring that they would risk giving away part of a vital organ to someone they did not know.
I immediately called Tina’s husband, Roger, and told him what had just happened. I don’t think he believed me at first. I got all the contact information at Baylor and sent it to Kelli. We talked the next day, she told me that she’d done extensive online research overnight about transplantation and that she had already spoken with the transplant liason at Baylor and was about to start the psychological evaluation which comes before the physical testing.
I was astonished again when I realized that she hadn’t had second thoughts, she hadn’t backed out. She was still willing to do it!
Kelli is an angel.
Kelli continued to talk to Baylor, take the evaluation, work, and get mentally ready to do something VERY few people have the chance to do and even fewer volunteer to do. Meanwhile, the results came back and Tina’s son- in-law Jarett was a match. You’d think that would be the end of the story with a live donation from Jarett, but Tina was too weak and frail at the time to undergo surgery. So the patient, who on a good day weighs 100-nothing, needed to put on weight and gain some strength. The thought of a cadaver transplant seemed like a distant possibility, but with a rock solid donor ready to give, Tina set about getting ready for the life-saving surgery.
Then, Tuesday morning, two days before Thanksgiving, the phone rang, it was Tina’s daughter. She told me that a 29 year old mother of two, Jennifer Markgraf, had been found unconscious and unresponsive by her husband, Kirk, in Ferris. He performed CPR, got her to Baylor in Waxahachie and she was then taken to Baylor Dallas by LifeFlight and tragically pronounced brain dead. Tina’s daughter let me know that Kirk was a firefighter in nearby Red Oak. Tina’s husand is also a firefighter. The fraternity of firefighters has an extremely strong bond which stretches from department to department, state to state……heart to heart.
Kirk is an angel.
The stage was set…….it was a God thing
Roger, Tina’s husband, was teaching a class that Tuesday and during a break, one of his students overheard him talking about his wife needing a liver transplant. The student slipped away and made a call. Before long, Roger was asked if he would talk to Jennifer’s mother. Roger was astonished, but quickly said he would love to talk to her. The two talked for 30 minutes or so about their loved ones. Jennifer’s mother related what a loving, caring, wonderful, vibrant, spirit-filled woman her daughter was. Roger described Tina in the same manner. They spoke of the firefighter connection and at the end of the conversation, Jennifer’s mom said, “Roger, we’d like for your Tina to have our Jennifer’s liver”.
Jennifer’s mother is an angel.
Overnight, Jennifer was assessed to be a perfect match for Tina. Unbelievable!
One of Tina’s daughters called Wednesday afternoon and said that her mom was on a LifeFlight helicopter going to Baylor in Dallas for an immediate transplant. Due to logistics, the transplant didn’t start that afternoon. Tina was taken into pre-op about 9:30 that night and the surgery was complete about 3:30 am on Thanksgiving day. Within a couple of hours the first blood tests came back showing that Tina’s liver enzymes were climbing which meant her new liver was working and working well.
By early that morning, most of Tina’s friends had gotten the news and were elated. Elated that their friend would grow old with them and get to watch her young grandchildren grow up……..but their elation was tempered with the knowledge that a very special woman had given Tina this incredible gift but would not grow old with her husband, her two children, her family and friends……..
Jennifer is an angel……a double angel.
And two amazing women will live on………
(Donations to Jennifer’s young family can be made at: Angel)