Living donor liver transplants can save lives.
For Lisa and Jamie Turner, their marriage is a life-giving miracle.
The Owasso couple, both 47, recently underwent one of the most difficult trials they’ve ever faced, but one that brought them closer together more than anything has before.
In December, Lisa donated part of her liver to her husband, who was diagnosed with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, in the fall of 2016.
Her decision would end up giving him a second chance at life.
It all started around two years ago when Jamie began showing signs of nausea, weakness and fatigue, and stomach pain – symptoms he simply chalked up to the flu. That is, until they worsened.
“I was starting to feel so bad,” he said. “As time went on, I became sicker.”
A short time later, his friends noticed some discoloration of his skin, which was indicative of jaundice.
“I became pretty concerned at that point,” he said. “One evening I became so sick, I went to the emergency room.”
It was there medical staff conducted a CT scan and found a large amount of scar tissue on his liver. They then sent him to a transplant center in Oklahoma City, and experts there diagnosed him with NASH in September 2016.
And that meant he eventually needed a new liver.
While in Oklahoma City, Jamie underwent extensive testing and was placed on a deceased donor list, although he was told he wasn’t sick enough to immediately qualify for a transplant.
“Yet I was sick,” he said. “And I was becoming so sick, it was getting hard to function. I felt like I was dying. It was a pretty tough time for us because a lot of people don’t survive this process.”
According to recent statistics provided by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there are 74,731 people out of 114,953 in need of a lifesaving organ transplant who are active waiting list candidates. On average, however, 20 people die each day while waiting for a transplant.
In light of these numbers, it wasn’t long until the couple started talking about other alternatives, including the option of a living donor, which would help increase his chances of receiving a transplant and reduce the disease’s progression.
Jamie said around April 2017 they began looking into the process and how he could submit his name to a waiting list. Lisa also floated the idea to her husband that she could possibly serve as the donor.
“It was a weird, off-the-cuff remark,” Jamie said. “It was one day when I was feeling so bad, and she just saw how bad I was, and she said, ‘I would give you part of my liver if I could.’”
From there, her simple idea turned into a serious possibility.
Over the next few months, the Turners learned more about the procedure, talked with experts and considered the likelihood that Jamie’s condition, as it worsened, could lead to death.
“The main reason why I wanted to donate to him,” Lisa said, “is nobody wants to see the person they love getting sicker and sicker and more miserable and weaker. At the end of the day, you want to see the person that you love feel better.”
Jamie added, “I actually didn’t want her to do it at first because she’s entirely healthy, and any kind of surgery is a risk,” he said. “But after we researched it, especially as I became sicker, I became more willing to consider it.”
After some heartfelt conversations, the couple moved forward with the decision and in the summer visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for a pre-screening. A week later, Lisa found out she was a perfect match for her husband and was approved for the operation.
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