I hemorrhaged after my son’s birth and was given a blood transfusion. In 1970, the blood supply was not tested like it is today, and I contracted the hepatitis C virus.
Busily leading my life, I was unaware of it for almost 20 years. If I ever felt tired or ill, I generally ignored it, and it seemed to pass. I discovered I had hepatitis C quite by accident when I had blood work to find out my cholesterol level. That was the start of a long journey.
I didn’t lead my life with this knowledge in the forefront of my mind, nor with fear. I did, however, learn all that I could about the disease, the liver and how to best lead my life to stay as healthy as possible. I knew that at some point I might need serious surgery, but I tried very hard to escape it. I always ate very well, exercised and stayed active, but I could not stop the progress of hepatitis C forever.
I had been on the transplant list for some time waiting for a cadaver liver, living as normally as I could. I did a good job, but 36 years after the birth of my first child was as long as I could last. By the summer of 2006, I began to notice things, and life seemed to become so much more of an effort.
My daughter, who lived in California, investigated the living donor program and decided she would give me part of her liver. I absolutely disagreed—vehemently. This was my child, and I could never think of putting her in harm’s way. My job had always been to care for and protect her.
She didn’t listen. She left a wonderful job, sold most of her belongings, packed up her cat and came across the country anyway. She made arrangements with the living-donor transplant program at the Starzl Transplantation Institute in Pittsburgh, again against my wishes.
I was afraid, and full of anxiety—not for me, but for her. After visiting with the transplant team and having many conversations with my family, I had to make a choice. I finally succumbed and three years ago, on Nov. 16, 2006, I had a liver transplant.
Needless to say, that choice saved my life. My daughter made it over the biggest hurdles of the recovery process in about two weeks. It took me about a year and a half after the transplant before I gained back my health, but now I feel absolutely great. I exercise every day and am playing and performing on my clarinet, something I once thought I would have to give up.
My daughter gave me the courage to make this decision. She gave me a new life, and is my living angel and my hero.
The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Sandy Weber is a reader from Pittsburgh.