Tag Archives: Mayo clinic

Meriwether Distillery: The Very Best Use of Your Liver

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Transplants, Avalanche Bombs and Other Adventures

Transplants, Avalanche Bombs and Other Adventures

Five years ago Whitney Meriwether made an amazing sacrifice. He let the surgeons at the Mayo Clinic split him open, take half his liver and give it to my husband in a procedure known as a living donor liver transplantation. I wrote about the transplant–and many other exciting things–in my memoir  (insert shameless plug here).

In other words, Whitney saved John’s life.

I remember driving the two of them home from the hospital after surgery to our little apartment we kept in Rochester, MN during the ordeal and overhearing this conversation (or something like it):

John: Now that we’re out of the hospital, what should we do next?

Whitney: I’ve always wanted to make something, to create something with my hands.

John: You should make vodka!

Maybe that wasn’t the exact words, but you get the gist.

PrintWhitney is a man of his word. Once he sets his sites on something, he’s like a pitbull. He doesn’t let go easily.

Meriwether Distillery is now producing Speakeasy Vodka, and it’s very good. He’s also got a kickstarter campaign going. I encourage you to check it out and support his efforts. Because, after all, vodka is the very best use of a liver. Just saying.

Kickstarter Campaign

Kickstarter Campaign: Click for More Info

Here’s a little more from their website:

“For this project we are hoping to raise $50,000. This seed money will go to our new distillation equipment and allow us to update and prepare our site for higher production and the addition of three new products to the Speakeasy family in the next twelve months. We appreciate you taking the time to read and thank you for your backing. Please tell anyone and everyone you can think of to check us out. Thanks!”

Weekly High-Five Report: Liver Day, a tribute to a hero

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Whitney and John all smiles after the transplant

Four years ago yesterday my husband received a liver transplant. Thanks to the generous donation by his living donor, Whitney Meriwether, who gave up nearly half of his liver, John is now alive and thriving. While many friends and family stood in the queue to help save John’s life, each one of us was rejected for various reasons. I was a good match but diabetes prevented me from donating. Whitney was rejected twice, but he kept trying. Most people would give up. Most people would tell themselves they tried, patting themselves on the back for the effort. Not Whitney. He figured that with a few dietary changes he could save John’s life. In a living donor transplant the right lobe from the donor is transplanted into the patient and in just one month regrows to full size in both people. It reminds me a little bit of the scene from Woody Allen’s Sleeper, like a nose that will grow back into a person. It’s strange but amazing. And now my husband has a very important piece of Whitney inside him. I’m just glad that Whitney never gave up. The day before the surgery his mom told me that Whitney doesn’t like to be told “No”. Thank God for that. Four years ago today John and Whitney walked out of Intensive Care (well, Whitney walked, John rode on the gurney). This weekend John and I reminded ourselves of our good fortune. He’s alive. He’s cancer-free. He’s still a father, a husband, a friend. If you’ve ever wondered what a hero who has learned firsthand the regenerative powers of the liver does next, check out Meriwether Distillery, a craft distillery making spirits in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. Now here’s a man who knows how to use his liver. Thank you Whitney. High-five brother.

Change of Plans

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Kircher Cliffs, Big Sky, Montana

Nothing is ever quite certain in life. Plans change. What you thought would be the greatest moment of your life can pale. What should have been drab might turn out to be stellar.

Before I met my husband, I thought I lived a spontaneous life. Back then I was living out of the back of my truck in the summer and dirt-bagging at my parent’s cabin at Crystal Mountain in winter. I didn’t earn much, but I didn’t need much. I was always ready at a moment’s notice for whatever adventure came my way.

Or so I thought.

After spending time with John–when I knew I might be falling in love with him–it was his spontaneity that most intrigued me. John lived like a man on a mission. He knew he would need a liver transplant someday. He figured it would be hard, and maybe he wouldn’t live through it. So he took every single moment and stretched, folded and rearranged it to its fullest.

We could all learn a lot from John. Not a single moment is wasted on this man.

When he first got sick, we expected to go to the Mayo Clinic for a few days and return home to await the transplant. Boy were we ever naive. We had no idea the challenge that lay ahead. The night after his first endoscopy, when I cancelled our flight home and prepared to hunker down near the eye of the storm, it was late in the day when I changed hotels.

We’d been staying at a place near the clinic–somewhere close to his doctor’s office, where we could make the daily appointment rounds as we joined the queue for organ donation and figured out the system. But something went wrong during that endoscopy.

He woke up, but didn’t rally. Where was my strong John? We had a flight to catch. We had a life to continue living back at home. And here he was, sick and hurting and telling me he wanted to stay in the hospital that night where they could look after him. He was transferred to the hospital by ambulance while I went to the hotel to check out and take a taxi to a place near him.

As I stood in the elevator, pushing two suitcases and wondering how he was doing back in his hospital room as I frantically changed our flight and hotel arrangements, another woman joined me on the next floor. She glanced at my bags, then at her watch. It was 6pm. She smiled. “It’s late to be checking out,” she said. She was trying to be nice.

I felt a sword in my throat. I knew that if I looked at her I would cry. If I even glanced in her general direction I would break down. This was all too soon. John and I had only been married a year. This liver transplant thing wasn’t supposed to happen yet. We needed a few good years. Our adventures had only started. I tried not to look at this woman, her shiny face a picture of Midwest kindness.

I lifted my chin slightly, my eyebrows making strident arches above my bloodshot eyes, and said, “change of plans.” But I wasn’t as brave and strong as I’d like to pretend I was. My voice wavered. My chest heaved. She knew enough to say she was sorry and to help me stare down the lighted buttons above the door.

As I exited that elevator and headed towards the taxi cabs waiting to transport loved ones with downcast eyes, the earth shifted below my feet. My plans had changed. Our plans. Things would never be the same.

And so when John texted me today to tell me that he’d changed plans and would indeed be joining me in Big Sky for a few days, I was thrilled. I’m here in Big Sky on my book tour and had planned on returning home tomorrow. But not so. My spontaneous husband is now joining me here.

That is the miracle: that my husband is still alive and that we are still being spontaneous. When I say that I’m grateful for every single day I have with him, I’m not kidding. I really am.

Book Launch Day

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Today is the day.

The Next 15 Minutes is now IN STOCK and available for purchase. I think I’ll go over to my local bookseller (or two or three) and just gaze at it on the shelf.

In case you’re still on the fence, and aren’t sure if you want to buy the book, have I mentioned that Ingrid Backstrom wrote the foreward? Or that the book opens with a scene of me throwing explosives out of a helicopter.

Just saying.

Here’s what others have said about it:

“When I read memoirs or listen to a speaker, I want to learn and I want to be inspired.  Kim and John’s story does both.  Everyone has a story to tell and Kim tells their’s well.  Kim and John’s lives will inspire all readers and allow us to pull lessons learned from their lives and struggles.  We as reader gains strength and hope through the sharing of their story.” Phil Ershler, AMGA Certifitied Alpine Guide and author of Together on Top of the World

“Kim’s positivity and grace under pressure is incredibly inspirational.  Her story is a joy to read, and it reminds all of us to get outside with the ones you love.” Ingrid Backstrom, Professional Skier

“As a transplant surgeon, I witness the immense physical and psychological challenges facing patients with a life-threatening illness. Ms. Kircher weaves her experience as a ski patroller high in the Cascade Mountains with the current battle against her husband’s liver disease with intense emotion and heart-wrenching detail. As she draws on her prior high-adrenaline experiences to face the current challenge of her husband’s illness and pending transplant, it leaves the reader feeling breathless, as if they are standing on the edge of the mountain with both husband and wife…This book is a fascinating memoir for any reader, and especially one who may be in the midst of or recovered from their own major adversity.” Julie Heimbach, Transplant Surgeon, Mayo Clinic

The Next Fifteen Minutes is a profoundly courageous and honest exploration of Kim and John Kircher’s journey together during John’s nearly fatal battle with liver cancer.  Their lives together in the mountains they love so much are the backdrop, and the lessons Kim has learned as a professional ski patroller give her the strength to make it through a harrowing year.” Dan Nordstrom, President and Owner of Outdoor Research

“In the year leading up to her husband’s liver transplant, Kim Kircher triumphs over the long wait and harrowing diagnosis by drawing lessons from her life in the mountains. As a ski patroller, she witnesses tragedy and triumph, dark storms and sparkling beauty, and learns how to fight for her husband’s life, offering him the support and partnership necessary to weather the storm.” Chris Klug, professional snowboarder, Olympic medalist, liver transplant recipient, author of To the Edge and Back: My Story from Organ Transplant Survivor to Olympic Snowboarder

So get out there and buy the book already.

Weekly High-Five Report: Older Gentlemen that Respect their Wives

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Last week at the Mayo Clinic, while John was getting his yearly post-transplant check-up, I walked around the campus drinking coffee, sat in waiting rooms flipping through dog-eared copies of Home Magazine and played Scrabble on my Kindle.

I also observed the people.

It’s no surprise that Rochester, Minnesota is full of older people. Some are there for annual check-ups, others are having that lump looked at, still others are dealing with much bigger issues. One afternoon, while I stood near the entrance of the Kahler Hotel across from the Clinic, sipping my Starbucks and warming my face in a sliver of sunlight sneaking between the tall buildings, an older couple arrived in a cab.

Clarence Hull, John Kircher, Kim Kircher

My Grandfather, the world's greatest gentleman

At first glance I could tell these two had been together a long time. After the driver deposited their single bag on the curb and left, the man looked at his wife and smiled. They were there for a visit to the Clinic. But they didn’t rush in to the hotel lobby right away. Instead, she looked up at the glassy Mayo Building and sighed. He followed her gaze, perhaps thinking about the early blood test in the morning that either she or he would endure. Maybe they were both wondering what the doctors would find. This might be the eve of a pivotal moment in their lives.

“You okay Ma?” He took his hand from the luggage handle and reached out for hers.

“Oh sure,” she nodded. But she didn’t smile.

“You sure gal?”

Now she smiled. A lifetime of understanding passed between the two.

I searched the ground for a private piece of curbside to look at, suddenly feeling like an intruder. I backed a little to the left, still keeping my face in the sun and sipped my coffee, trying to look anonymous. I was enthralled.

The couple could have been my grandparents, who celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary a few years ago before they both passed away. 75 years together. Can you imagine that? They’d been through a lifetime together.

The woman took his hand. “I’ll be okay,” she said. “As long as I’ve got you.”

I looked away. The couple stepped forward and the automatic doors of the hotel swooshed open and swallowed them.

I wanted to follow them and give them a high five. Way to stick it out. Way to stand together against the worst that life has thrown you. Way to make it this far.

I hope their check-ups went well, that the doctors didn’t find anything too alarming in their blood work. I hope they’ve now returned to their lives.

Perhaps I admire older couples because I hope that John and I will be an older couple someday. I hope that we both live that long. Someday if I have to face a scary appointment, John will be there to hold my hand and give me a high-five when we get through the worst of it together.

The Check Up

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Just the way I like him

Earlier this week John and I returned to Mayo Clinic for his yearly post-transplant check-up. This is the week every year when we both take a long look at where we’ve been. It all comes roaring back. As we walked quickly through the Mayo campus, jogging across the plaza, running up stairs instead of waiting for the elevator, John and I felt the change.

We stood at the crosswalk, waiting for a break in the traffic. We didn’t have to wait for the walk signal. Not this time. John looked at me and smiled. I knew what he was thinking. Four years ago we’d stood right here. We’d walked this same campus, gingerly taking steps across the street, hoping the walk signal would wait for his slow gait. Back then he couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be well. He’d see a guy, maybe his own age, maybe younger, jog across the street, his suit jacket flying open as he ran to his appointment, and John would shake his head.

He didn’t think he’d ever be able to walk quickly again. He thought he’d be sick forever, just one step from a hospital bed, waiting fifteen minutes to hit the pain button again.

One afternoon this week, John and I found a few hours in between appointments and decided to go for a run. “Where can we go?” He asked.

“How about the trail?”

“What trail?”

John didn’t know about the paved trail that bisected the town and ran along the river. We set out from the hotel and waited at a stop light and jogged in place. When we crossed I turned left and he continued straight. “Where are you going?” He asked.

I sighed. “To the trail. It’s this way.”

He turned toward me. “How am I supposed to know that?”

He had a point.

While he’d been sick in the hospital those first two months, I’d run these trails alone. I knew, for instance, that about twenty minutes from downtown we’d come to Soldiers Field, where we’d watched the fireworks display on the 4th of July that first night we’d arrived. His appointments started in the morning, and while his skin had already turned yellow, the disease hadn’t really caught up with him yet. It was our last night of near-normalcy before the ordeal started.

Now, as we ran together on the trail, I realized that for John this view was entirely new. He had never seen the geese and ducks floating here on the river, opening their wings to the warm wind. He’d never sailed over this iron bridge, heard the sound of baseballs cracking in that field, watched the soccer girls run laps on this green lawn.

He’d never calculated the distance and turned back at the exact spot where we’d watched in the dark as our life together exploded in colorful fireworks above us, the long streamers turning from red to blue to silver before they faded.

Now John says he can’t remember what it feels to be sick. He cannot conjure up the feeling of small steps, the pain that sat on his right side, the doctor’s words that it was cancer.

And I’m glad. I hope he forgets those things, becoming the man who runs across the street just before the walk signal changes.

Now we run along the trail together, and I can barely keep up with him. And that’s just the way I like it.

A Doctor Speaks Out

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Today, over at Laura Munson’s blog, I found an amazing doctor.  Dr. Gary Hammer, a rare-cancer specialist at University of Michigan, wrote an open letter to cancer patients everywhere.  In it, he shows humility and grace. 

Debunking the myth that a doctor has to maintain “objectivity” when treating patients, especially terminal ones, Dr. Hammer claims, instead, that vulnerability and grace open up for both patient and doctor.  During an illness, when everything else has been stripped away, the patient and the witnesses, come to be present in a way that everyday life rarely offers.

When my husband, John, lay dying in a hospital bed, I witnessed heroic doctors and surgeons that never gave up on him or his treatment.  John’s too was a rare cancer that most patients die from (quite often cholangiocarcinoma patients are given only months to live).  But because of the tests at Mayo clinic, and the work of Dr. Gores, the cancer was found early for John and he was able to have a transplant, which saved his life. 

Just as Dr. Hammer suggests, rubbing up close to death brings a vulnerability that John and I both experienced.  Perhaps that is the lasting gift:  stripping away the noise to reveal the vulnerable present. 

Here is a link to Dr. Hammer’s letter: http://www.annarbor.com/health/the-roller-coaster-chronicles-an-open-letter-to-cancer-patients-everywhere/.

Hello world!

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I figured that I might as well get on the blog bandwagon, so here goes.  This blog is dedicated (for now, who knows how these things evolve!) to showcasing my husband’s success over a rare liver disease and the cancer that snaked its way into our lives.  John needed a liver transplant, but the cancer meant that he couldn’t get one.  Except, that is, for patients at Mayo Clinic.  Thanks to the awesome doctors and surgeons at Mayo, he just celebrated his second post-transplant anniversary cancer-free.  We have always been adventurers, spending our lives in the mountains, oceans and sky.  When he got sick, it was the lessons I learned in the world’s remote and treachorous places that helped me get through the darkest moments of the journey, most importantly to calm down and breathe.  My memoir, THE NEXT FIFTEEN MINUTES, takes the reader through the year of his diagnosis, where I searched for salvation in the oddest places.  See the link to the first few chapters of the memoir, which is awaiting publication.  Also, leave comments and let me know how you have learned to cope with life’s turning points, both large and small.