Written by Kent Larson
My symptoms started in January 2016. I was weak, my legs were swollen, and my blood pressure was low. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I went to my primary care doctor, a cardiologist and then a gastroenterologist. For several months, the GI doctor thought he could reverse damage to my liver, which showed signs of hepatitis. But by September, I was in liver failure, and he referred me to Mayo Clinic’s Liver Transplant Program.
Although test results confirmed I needed a new liver, the number used to determine my place on the list as a viable candidate for a transplant was low. While I waited, my health continued to decline. In addition to retaining a lot of fluid, which required weekly removal known as paracentesis, my hemoglobin was extremely low. Several times my organs nearly shut down, and I went from getting one unit of blood weekly to needing three units each week.
By December, the stress on my kidneys was too much, and they failed as well. I was on dialysis three times a week, which I grew to hate because I always felt horrible for a day or two afterward.
Kidney failure caused me to accumulate even more fluid, and I began twice weekly paracentesis. At each appointment, nearly 20 pounds of fluid were extracted from my body.
By the beginning of 2017, I had lost 75 pounds, had no energy or stamina, minimal appetite and was constantly cold. My doctors discussed using a feeding tube to address my malnutrition. The days became weeks and months. While I kept a positive attitude, I knew I was on the cusp of death
On April 22, 2017, around 11 p.m., I received a call from Mayo letting me know a liver and a kidney from the same donor had become available. My sister Marci, who was my caregiver, and I were cautiously optimistic because we had received three calls in the prior months where the organs that became available were not suitable for me.
Fortunately everything lined up, and I went into surgery. When I awoke the next morning, after a six and a half hour surgery performed by Kristopher Croome, M.D., I remember thinking what a miracle it was that everything worked beautifully. I spent six days in the hospital before being discharged home.
Today, five months later, I am doing well, humbled to be alive and thankful for every day. Throughout this journey, the support I received from the doctors, nurses and technicians at Mayo Clinic was incredible. They became my second family.
Surprisingly, this was not unlike my first experience at Mayo Clinic, nearly 50 years ago. Living in rural North Dakota, I was just 14 years old and was severely injured in a tobogganing accident. My sled hit a tree, and the side brace had come loose and penetrated my abdomen, severing my ureter and urethra, and tearing my colon. After an emergency surgery in my hometown, I was sent to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus and had four additional operations to repair the damage.
Mayo Clinic has saved my life twice now. I am very grateful for this second chance, and I have written a letter to the donor family to tell them how wonderful a gift they’ve given me.
Moving forward, I plan to volunteer at local organizations to raise awareness about the importance of blood, tissue and organ donation. I also share my story with everyone I meet, hoping to encourage someone else to be an organ donor.
I love travel and am looking forward to exploring new places. Next February I’ll be visiting the Hawaiian Islands for the first time with my sister. One of my goals is to visit all the U.S. national parks. I just got back from the Grand Canyon and am planning a trip to Yosemite National Park next year.
I’m excited about living life to the fullest and enjoying the natural beauty of our country. There is no doubt in my mind that if I had not gone to Mayo I would not be here today.