Sharing Mayo Clinic

Stories from patients, family, friends and Mayo Clinic staff

February 29, 2016

Professional Outdoorsman Lives Life to the Fullest After Liver Transplant

By SharingMayoClinic

Steve and Maria Woodford are back to active lifestyles after transplant and cancer care at Mayo Clinic.Being diagnosed with bile duct cancer that eventually necessitated a liver transplant wasn't enough to keep Steve Woodford down for long. A South African native living in Utah, Steve is professional skydiving instructor, backpacker and canyon guide in Zion National Park. He has always lived on the edge with his active outdoors lifestyle. Getting sick unexpectedly during a backpacking trip to Belize two years ago seemed like just another challenge he had to overcome.

"My wife and I had just arrived in Belize to do some backpacking and visit the Mayan ruins, when I woke up itching, and noticed a yellow tint to my eyes and skin," Steve says. "I saw a local doctor for a blood test, urine test and ultrasound, and was told I had hepatitis C and needed to go straight home for immediate treatment. Little did I know what was to come after returning home to Utah." 

Back home, Steve was evaluated by a gastroenterologist and diagnosed with bile duct cancer, rather than hepatitis C, in February 2014. He was told the cancer was inoperable and incurable. He was put on chemotherapy, underwent radiation therapy, and had a stent inserted in his bile duct, in an unsuccessful attempt to solve a drainage problem. He then had a stent inserted into the liver to drain fluid to an external bag.

A referral to a transplant center in Salt Lake City proved to be Steve's lucky break.

There, Michael Charlton, M.D., a gastroenterologist and former Mayo Clinic physician, told Steve he would need a liver transplant to survive. Although Steve was placed on the waiting list in Utah for a liver transplant, the wait time in that region would be one to two years, and it was doubtful he'd survive long enough to get the organ he needed.

Steve's doctor recommended he contact Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, to see if he could be evaluated and listed there, since the wait time for a donor liver might be shorter in the Southeast.

After a thorough evaluation by the transplant team at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus, Steve was placed on the liver transplant list in Florida. He and his wife, Maria, packed up their RV and temporarily moved to Jacksonville to be near Mayo Clinic, where he continued treatment as he awaited a new liver.

"Mayo Clinic saved both of our lives within weeks of each other. It was truly a miracle of timing and great care." - Steve Woodford

That move turned out to be a good one for both of them.

"While we were in Jacksonville undergoing treatment and awaiting my new liver, my wife had a routine mammogram, which ended up detecting a tumor in her breast," Steve says. "After a biopsy confirmed her breast cancer diagnosis, she underwent surgery on Christmas Eve 2014 and began radiation therapy. We were a bit shocked that both of us got sick at the same time, but remained confident we'd both beat our illnesses."

Less than two weeks after his wife's breast cancer surgery and after being listed for a donor liver for five months, Steve received his new liver on Jan. 8, 2015.

"Mayo Clinic saved both of our lives within weeks of each other," Steve says. "It was truly a miracle of timing and great care."

Four months after the transplant, Steve and Maria hitched up their fifth-wheel trailer and set out to visit the five states in the U.S. they not yet visited. Almost 8,000 miles and four months later, they have now been in 49 States after visiting Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. Along the way, Steve had surgery at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus for a bilateral hernia, which put him back three months in his plan to resume skydiving. He did his first jump since his transplant in October 2015, instead of July as he'd planned.

Now, a year after Maria's breast cancer surgery and Steve's liver transplant, both are doing well and have mostly resumed their active outdoors lifestyles. In fact, Steve attempted a world-record night skydive in Arizona over the 2015 Thanksgiving holiday, with 52 jumpers participating in the event. He has already done more than 80 jumps since his surgery a year ago.

"Maria is doing great, and I've mostly resumed my outdoors activities as I had done before, other than a little less stamina and a bit of lingering joint pain relating to the eight months of chemotherapy I underwent," Steve says. "But I'm grateful for recovering as well as I have, and credit my Mayo Clinic surgeons, doctors and nurses for the wonderful care they gave to both me and my wife."



Tags: Bile Duct Cancer, breast cancer, Cancer, Florida Campus, Gastroenterology, Liver Transplant, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, Mayo Clinic Transplant Center, Transplant

Inspiring to say the least!
I am 63 and currently on a liver transplant list at Jacksonville. I had hep c for many years. Cleared the virus after my 3rd attempt about a year ago and shortly after that I was diagnosed with liver cancer. I am so incredibly grateful I went to Mayo Clinic. Everyone I have met is optimistic and keeps me hopeful everything will work out fine. I wasn’t getting that support from my local doctors. Hearing your story gives me more faith and hope. Thank you.


I received my transplant on 2/16/2008 after waiting over 4 years on list. Having ulcerative colitis for 4 years I was diagnosed with bile duct cancer weighing 310 lbs after gaining 60 lbs from the prednisone. Ended up gaining all that weight was the best thing for me. From the CNA’s to the surgeons every employee at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN was as caring and attentive as any family member was. The thing I appreciated the most was not one dr that I saw, and there you get an entire team of dr’s working together, ever gave me a timeframe of how long I had to live where my local dr’s 4 hours east had mentioned just that to me more times than I can count and I outlived 2 of them so far. Not until tithe day prior, Friday the 15th, the head surgeon Dr. Rosen came to ask me if I wanted to go home and be with family or stay there because he didn’t believe I would make it until Monday. I decided to stay for two reasons. First was the IV pain meds and second not one time did I ever believe I wasn’t going to make it. Next morning Dr Rosen showed up at 8 am asking me if I was up for getting a new liver. I thought it was a dream. He told he wasn’t guaranteeing I’d survive the surgery, but if I agreed to the procedure it would be at noon, four hours from now and my closest family member was 4 1/2 to 5 hours away with her driving. I told Dr Rosen if he did his thing I’d will myself thru one more surgery weighing only 134 lbs after having lost 175 lbs over the 4+ years. It will be my 9 year annaversary in 16 days from time of this letter. So never listen to anyone telling you how long you have to live or what you can will yourself thru because none of us have an expiration date anywhere on us and only your faith will decide when it’s your time. Dr Rosen and Dr Heimbach are two of the most confidence building Dr’s I’ve ever met where just hearing their voice put me in a state of calmness and feeling that the transplant surgery was just a means to the end. I always believed that there was a reason for everything and found out a few years later in a letter along with medical journal that because of the different clinical trials on Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) that I agreed to let the research teams access to blood samples and anything else they needed in hopes of finding a cure or prevent from progressing they had made significant progress in prevention of PSC becoming Cancer of bike ducts. I hope you get yours soon and remember you are at the best place you can be. Mayo!

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