As my wife, Tamara, and I anxiously awaited news of a liver donor, it seems as if the third time truly was the charm. Three years ago she started gaining weight and experienced an unfamiliar level of fatigue. She could barely make it out of the house for more than 30 minutes before she needed to rest or was ready to return home.
It was not until we were referred to the Mayo clinic in Phoenix that she was diagnosed with Budd Chiari syndrome. The weight gain turned out to be retention of fluid as a blood clot leading to the liver robbed it of essential blood. Many essential functions of the liver were being compromised, sending her system into chaos.
A surgical bypass of the clot provided a reprieve and along with medication and closely monitoring her diet, Tamara was able to resume a more normal life. Yet she faced a curious conundrum. Each year there are only enough donor livers for less than one of three people on the transplant list. Priority is given to the sickest patients and she was still relatively healthy. Simultaneously, fatigue, discomfort and occasional confusion — all part of the experience of those with liver disease — interfered with her participation in a number of activities.
So a call last December announcing a match to a donor was totally unexpected. We scurried off from our home in Tucson to Phoenix, where she underwent several hours of preparation before being whisked away to surgery, only to learn the donor liver posed too high a risk of complications and the procedure was aborted.
Thus began a year of anticipation, making sure to always have the phone close at hand, lest she miss the coveted call. Do we remodel the house, knowing that if she receives a transplant the project must come to a halt, as she could not be around dust the first six months post surgery? Should we travel and take the risk she might miss another opportunity?
Then on the morning of March 31 came a second call. While Tamara was being prepped for surgery, I made a mad dash back from San Francisco, driving 90 miles an hour from the airport to the Mayo, so I could see her before surgery. Thirty minutes later, the surgeon broke the disappointing news, invoking the old cliché that maybe the third time would be the charm.
So when the third call came, we didn’t even let most family and friends know we were off. Although all indications appeared to signal this time was indeed the charm, it was not until the surgeon arrived 15 minutes prior to surgery with the good news that we were ready to trust the transplant might really take place.
Tamara received her transplant on Nov. 4. Thanks to a truly outstanding medical team, and more important, to the generosity and foresight of a donor, she has returned home, is gaining strength each day, and is beginning to think again about following through with some of the plans she had been making over three years ago.
Congregation M’kor Hayim participated in the 5K/1K Liver Life Walk Tucson at Brandi Fenton Memorial Park on Dec. 14 with 24 walkers. Calling themselves “Team Tamara,” with Tamara Novak and Marlyne Freedman as team captains, M’kor Hayim was the top fundraising team, raising over $1,200 for the American Liver Foundation. Novak came out to cheer the team at the walk.