Category Archives: Liver transplant

If I Could Go Back My Wedding Day, I’d Whisper This Into My Own Ear

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Today is our ten-year anniversary. Taken as a whole, a decade seems to have blinked by. But taken in pieces, it has been a long, strange, wild ride. I almost lost John after just our first year of marriage. We fought back from his cancer and liver transplant together. We have climbed mountains together, rafted rivers, trekked through the Himalayas, sailed and surfed and skied and loved each other through worldly adventures and daily rituals.

July 16, 2005

July 16, 2005

When I look back at the woman I was ten years ago today, when I vowed to love and cherish my husband, I was a different person. I was younger, of course, full of optimism and the kind of blind faith that makes us want to cleave ourselves to another person for all of eternity, but I was also pretty naïve. While I thought on my wedding day that I was wise and mature and knew exactly what I wanted out of life, I also wasn’t fully formed yet. Back then I hadn’t been tested like I have now. I hadn’t yet watched my husband lying emaciated in a hospital bed wondering if he would ever wake up. I hadn’t yet held his hand while his mother took her last breath. I hadn’t yet cried in his arms in grief after losing my dad.

Call it an accumulation of experiences—the kind of self-awareness that comes from witnessing ourselves manage crises and joys, trials and triumphs. But when I look back at that bride, I want to treat her kindly, to pat her hand and tell her that while it might not be easy, it will be worth it.

If I could go back and whisper into the ear of that former self, I know what I would say. I would tell that blissful bride to accept each moment, to stop trying to orchestrate her life and simply be present for it. I would remind her to enjoy every moment with this man she was committing herself to. I would tell her that while life can’t be lived easily, it can be lived fully. I would tell her not to take everything so personally.

It is easy to look back at our former selves and access our growth. It is much harder to look ahead and imagine how we will be ten years from now. If I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit that the next ten years probably won’t be as rosy as I’d like to think. Life always has a way of messing with your best intentions. But there’s one thing I do know. Whatever lies ahead for us we will face it together.

After ten years of marriage, I know that I’m lucky to have John as my husband. He challenges me to be the best version of myself (admittedly, this isn’t something I’m keen to appreciate all that often, but still). He’s strong when I’m weak. He’s even-keeled when I drop my basket. He pushes on towards camp when I want to set down my pack and lie, exhausted, on the hard ground.

Today I celebrate what we’ve accomplished and shared so far. Here’s to the next ten years.

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!”

Aspen Event to Promote Organ and Tissue Donation

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The 7th Annual Summit for Life Event in Aspen on Dec. 7-8 will raise money and awareness for organ and tissue donation. I participated last year and many of you made donations in my honor. This is a great event, full of energy and enthusiasm to celebrate second chances. My husband was given a second chance four years ago. Below is a video from the event last year. See if you can spot my cameo appearance.

This year, I’m making my donation in honor of Chris Klug. In 2000 Chris received a life saving liver donation and then went on to win a bronze medal in the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Games. When my husband was waiting for his liver transplant and heard about Chris’s story, he was motivated and hopeful. Chris gave John the hope and drive to get through the ordeal. Since meeting Chris and participating last year, I can say he’s one hell of a guy. His enthusiasm for life is infectious. Being a part of Summit For Life last year was fun and exhilarating. It is a celebration of life.

Today Chris heads the Chris Klug Foundation, which promotes donor awareness and puts on great events such as Summit For Life. Today 116,000 people are waiting for lifesaving organ donation. One donor can save 8 lives through organ donation and enhance 100 lives through tissue donation. 90% of Americans support organ and tissue donation, but only 30% take the necessary steps to becoming a donor. Thanks to people like Chris Klug, this is changing.

Please visit Chris’s donation page and support the cause.

Weekly High-Five Report: Brotherly Love Run

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Chris Praetzel is running across America to raise awareness for Organ Transplantation. In 1996, at age 3, Chris’s brother, Brian Praetzel, received a life saving kidney transplant. His doctors had held out little hope, knowing the wait for a transplant might simply be too long for his young body. Fortunately a kidney came through in time.

Today Chris, along with another brother, Jaime offering ground support, is running from Los Angeles to Atlantic City. He started his journey on May 23rd and his latest blog update comes from Craig, Colorado.

With 42% of Americans signed up as organ donors, and 100,000 patients currently waiting for an organ, Chris feels we can do better. He’s right. If you are reading this blog and have not yet signed up to be an organ donor, consider doing so right now.

Along the way Chris has slept on church grounds, been questioned by curious police officers, dodged forest fires and has been extended free meals as a token of other’s great appreciation. Most days Chris is running 30 miles and some days he’s covering as much as 50+ miles. That’s pretty awesome. For anyone who has ever run a marathon, imagine doing that everyday for three months. I’m impressed.

Bravo to Chris for undertaking this worthy cause. His website, Brotherly Love Run, gives details about the course and the motivation behind his undertaking. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. I just love to hear about brave athletes putting out hard endeavors. But add raising organ donation awareness to the mix and I’m thoroughly behind it. Go Chris Go!

Facebook Saves Lives

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Are you feeling guilty about all those “wasted” hours on Facebook? Do you scroll through your news feed with a sense of irresponsibility as the work piles up in your inbox?

Well, now you don’t have to. Check out this video explaining how Facebook and Donate Life are saving lives. Just click on the image to start the video.

 

Facebook has partnered with Donate Life America and  recently announced the new “organ donor” status tool. Now, you can declare your live-giving choice to your friends. The first step in organ donation is making the choice. The second step is letting your loved ones know your wishes.

Every day 18 people die waiting for a organ donor. You can save 8 lives and improve many more by becoming an organ donor. No one wants to think about their own death. I don’t. But I signed up to be an organ donor when I was sixteen years old and I have the little heart on my driver’s license to prove it. I never expected that my husband would need a liver transplant some day. When the time came, the wait list was too long. John would have died before he got a liver. Instead, a heroic member of our family donated half of his liver to John and saved his life. Luckily his anatomy matched closely enough for a successful living donor transplant. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Here’s how to declare your status:

Go to Timeline, click on “Life Event,” select “Health and Wellness,” choose “Organ Donor.” And make sure to click on the “Officially Register” link to make your decision to be a donor official by registering in your state. It’s that easy! Please share this post with everyone you know.

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.

Weekly High-Five Report: Summit for Lifers

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Enjoying that post-climb high with CFK Executive Director Jenny Dziura and Chris Klug at the top of Aspen Mountain

As you might already know, I raced in the Summit for Life event at Aspen this weekend to raise money for the Chris Klug Foundation. The mission of CKF is to raise awareness for tissue and organ donation. With their Donor Dudes program, they aim to educate every young person getting their driver’s license to check the box for organ donation.

Every ten minutes another person is put on the national organ waiting list. That waiting list currently has 112,000 critically ill patients on it. 18 people will die today waiting for an organ. When John needed a liver, his only option was a live donor, because the wait for a deceased donor would be too long. He had only 120 days after cancer treatment, and the waiting list was two years.

One donor can save 8 lives through organ donation and enhance the lives of 100 others through tissue donation. Today with cutting edge surgical techniques, more and more lives can be saved. But it takes donors.

Crossing the Finish Line

Becoming an organ donor is a final gift of life. Chris Klug received a liver 11 years ago and went on to become an Olympic medalist in snowboarding. He believes in second chances, and so do I. Two particularly inspiring participants joined together on Saturday night and raced together–one received a life-saving organ donation, the other was a family member of the deceased donor.

Chris is an inspiring leader. His charisma is heartfelt and his compassion is blinding. This year 500 racers and riders supported the Summit for Life event in which competitors raced to the top of Aspen Mountain by the light of the full moon. When the evening ended, after the awards ceremony in which Keegan Swirbul won with an impressive time of 46:31, after Chris gave an inspirational speech, I rode the gondola down alone. The moon shone high in the sky, lighting the Roaring Fork Valley in splendor, I felt inspired and blessed. Three and a half years ago, my husband got a second chance. And thanks to Chris and his foundation, many more lives will be saved.

Here’s a high-five to my awesome sponsors (I personally raised $600), the 500 racers, the 40 volunteers, the race coordinators, Chris, Missy and Bali Klug, Warren and Kathy Klug and all of the CKF team. If you ever doubt that a small group of committed people can make a difference, join me next time for the Summit for Life.  I’ll be back for sure.