A Family Affair
ABOVE: Bryan, left & Gene, right.
I first got sick in the spring of 1992 when I was in the 7th grade. I thought it might be the flu, but as I continued to play lacrosse, I became more and more fatigued.
Our middle school had a professional shadowing day and I was working with my dad, Gene. He noticed my eyes were yellow.
I went to the doctor and was initially diagnosed with auto immune hepatitis. I started a vitamin regimen and was told I would soon feel better. But instead my condition worsened. I was referred to a gastroenterologist at Children’s Hospital. He told me a liver transplant might someday be necessary, but certainly not for several years.
My symptoms progressed to the point that I could barely walk more than a few steps. I returned to the hospital and had a liver biopsy that showed a high level of copper in my liver. I was diagnosed with a rare genetic illness called Wilson’s Disease. When left untreated, it destroys the liver and results in death.
I was already so sick, I was immediately listed for a liver transplant. Only a week later the doctors told my family I might have only 24-hours to live. Thankfully, that’s when my second chance came.
On July 4, 1992, at the age of 13, I had a life-saving liver transplant at the Ohio State University Medical Center. I was initially told I might stay in the hospital for several months, but I was ready to go home in just over a week. I was so grateful for my gift.
My family knew only that my donor was a 10-year-old boy from Baton Rouge, La. My dad made a phone call to the local newspaper to see if he could find out more information (this was before there were explicit rules about donor/recipient communication).
He learned a young boy named Brandon was fatally injured in an accident while riding his ATV with his cousin. His accident occurred on the same day I was listed for my transplant. A week later he was declared brain dead. His family said “yes” to donation.
My dad called the family’s priest just before Brandon’s funeral service and asked that he pass on our message of incredible thanks. The priest later told dad the news really touched Brandon’s family. Particularly, that his gift had saved another young person. Through the priest, we sent the family a letter six months after my transplant, and have been in contact with them ever since. We met Brandon’s family on my 16th birthday in 1995, three years after my transplant. It was a surreal and amazing experience. Saying, “Thank you” feels so insignificant. At the worst time in their lives, they made a decision that saved mine.
Gene’s point of view:
Before Bryan’s illness we knew almost nothing about organ donation and transplantation. However, we learned quickly how precious the gift can be and how uncertain receiving it can be.
Bryan and I started volunteering with Lifeline of Ohio shortly after his transplant. I joined the Board of Directors as a recipient family representative in 1995 and I’m still serving. Bryan has often been called on to meet with young people who are awaiting a liver transplant and has given numerous presentations for LOOP.
I was so proud and blessed to see my son graduate from high school, get his degree at Ohio University and now, work with me and his sister, Mandy, at Warman Productions.
Because of Bryan’s donor and his family, we have had over 18 more years with my son. Each Sunday we’ve been we see him sing and play in the worship band at our church. He participated in three of the U.S. Transplant Games. Most of all he has been able to grow into a strong and healthy young man.
But the ways in which donation and transplantation has touched our family continues beyond Bryan’s transplant. While in college, our daughter, Heather, worked at Lifeline of Ohio in bereavement services. She met her husband, Duane, while working there.
A few years ago, my wife, Sandy, had tissue transplants during multiple back surgeries. She can now play with our grandchildren and is so grateful for her gifts.
My personal experiences with donation give me an incredible passion to serve and to do all we can to see that others receive the same remarkable gift that saved Bryan’s life. Organ and tissue donation truly is a family affair for us, and we are so thankful for the life-saving gifts that have impacted us all.