Justin: Liver Transplant is Lifesaving for a Young Husband and Father

At age 35, Justin’s liver was failing, though he did not yet know it. His condition was so grave by the time he found out, it was almost too late.

A Devastating Diagnosis

Justin’s first inkling of trouble was rapid — and significant — weight gain, which started in 2015.

“I have been heavy, but over the course of one week, I would be able to gain 100 pounds of water,” Justin said. He made multiple trips to emergency departments, where he received diuretics to eliminate the water but not a diagnosis.

The turning point came around Thanksgiving 2016 when Justin’s liver failure was finally diagnosed, and his doctor told him he needed a liver transplant. However, before he could get a transplant evaluation, his condition took another downturn in early 2017.

“By then I was bright yellow and couldn’t open my eyes because of the fluid,” Justin said.

His wife, Kelly, vividly recalled the reaction of Justin’s doctor. “She took one look at him and said he was dying and that he had to go to the hospital,” Kelly said.

Straight to the Emergency Room

“I felt like the world had just dropped out from under me,” Justin said. He and Kelly did not even go home, instead going directly to a local hospital where Justin checked in at the emergency department.

Here, his doctor told him his liver was failing from fatty liver disease, a common cause of liver failure.

The largest organ in the body, the liver is responsible for multiple functions, including filtering out toxins and producing blood-clotting factors. When the liver fails and toxins build up, it can damage the kidneys.

When Justin arrived his kidney function was also worsening, which can be an ominous sign. Justin began kidney dialysis to prevent further damage to his kidneys.

After Justin passed a battery of tests to ensure he was otherwise well enough for a transplant, he was placed at the top of the regional waiting list because of his urgent need.

Instead of feeling anxious about the wait, Justin said he made peace with it. “Even if I didn’t get an organ, I had a shot,” he said. “It was the first time I had hope.”

Meanwhile, Kelly was dealing with her own fears while trying to reassure their son, Owen, who was three at the time. “They were the hardest conversations I’ve ever had,” she said. “I told him Daddy was really sick, that he had the best care possible, and someday soon he would be home to play with him again — and hoped I wasn’t lying.”

It’s a Go

The wait was mercifully short. The day after he had been added to the wait list, Justin was told a possible organ had been located and its viability was being assessed.

The final decision came early the following morning. The donor liver was a match and the transplant was scheduled. Kelly rushed from their home to the hospital.

“She came in, we were off to the races, and the next thing I remember was 12 days later,” Justin said.

Transplantation is a finely orchestrated sequence that begins with surgeons retrieving the donor organ.

Justin’s transplant went smoothly.

Kelly could tell the surgery was a success. “When I saw him, I told everybody how great he looked, even with tubes everywhere,” she said. “His color was back, and he looked alive again.”

Home Again

In all, Justin spent more than two months in the hospital, including a stay in rehabilitation to regain strength and mobility.

Now, more than two years later, Justin and his family live in Menomonee Falls, and he is once again doing the grocery shopping, taking Owen to school and pursuing his passion of cooking family meals.

Like his dad, Owen is recovering also. “He’s seen a lot,” Kelly said. “But the return to normal family activities has been healing. It helps him to know everything is fine.”

Justin is thankful for the gift of routine in his life and, especially, for the high level of care he received.