Looking For a Liver In All The Wrong Places

In March of 2005 I was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. My prognosis was not good as I was told I needed a transplant but could not get listed for one and receive one before I would likely die. The demand for livers is great and the donation rate is nowhere near adequate.

I left the transplant program at UCLA after six months of waiting and frustration. My doctor would want to see me in two weeks and the next available appointment would be in two months. At the advice of my personal physician I left the program at UCLA. I was dying and still not getting approved to be on the list for transplantation. My doctor got me enrolled at the St. Vincent's Medical Center in Los Angeles.

After meeting with the surgeon on my first visit, he assured me I would be listed for transplantation within one week. He even introduced me to the transplant coordinator nurse (who is a very important person in the transplant process). I was ecstatic! My prayers had been answered. All I needed to do was complete a series of evaluations and I would be presented to the committee for transplantation ( the list). A person gets on the list based on the severity of his disease. He is assigned a MELD SCORE. The higher the score, the higher you are on the list. There is a factor also as to how long you have been on the list but the basic rule is that the sickest person, gets the liver that has been donated. I had another negative, I was O positive in my blood type which is the most common. This is actually a bad thing because the O positive livers are a universal donor (they can donate to all blood types) and as such make an O positive recipient,such as myself, more difficult to get an O positive liver because I would have to compete with all other blood types,not just O positives for an O positive liver. I could only receive an O positive liver for a match.

On the Monday following my big news of being enrolled at St. Vincent's I received a very disturbing e mail from the surgeon at St. Vincent's. The liver transplant program was being shut down. Allegedly they had given a Saudi prince a liver when it was meant for someone else. A payoff was suspected. As such, my surgeon told me to get to the transplant program at USC immediately, that day, with all of my records. I went to St. Vincent's immediately to pick up my records and found the place in chaos, however I did obtain my records and go straight to USC. I literally was dying and without a transplant in sight.

When I finally did get an appointment at USC the doctors immediately put me in the hospital. I was indeed dying. After two days of intense doctoring, including transfusions, I was starting to stabilize. Late in the evening on the second day my wife and I were visited by a young intern. He was Asian. He asked permission to speak to us which of course was granted. He stated that I "had to get out of USC." When I questioned the quality of the hospital and transplant team, he stated that his advice had nothing to do with USC's abilities, in fact they were first rate, he simply stated that there was little chance of me getting a liver in Southern California because the region was so impacted with demand and very short on donors. He suggested I look into the Midwest.

He was extremely vague about a specific location. When I asked about Chicago, he said to stay away from the major cities. He advised to go online and look into various transplant centers as alternatives. After extensive research we found that the University of Indiana (IUPUI) had only 32 people on their list. California had 1778 on their list at the time.

On Dec. 12,2005 my wife and I flew to Indianapolis for a 12/13/05 evaluation. After a preliminary examination I was put on their list and told I was the second in position due to my MELD score. On Dec. 23rd I was transplanted. The operation was a huge success and I am now back to work. I cannot say enough about the doctors and nurses at IUPUI. Not only did they save my life but everything was done with a "can do" attitude. This was a far cry from the UCLA experience.

Upon my return to Southern California I was being evaluated back at USC, the people there were so happy for me. At one point I saw the young intern who advised me to look into the Midwest. You can imagine my excitement to see him and thank him for giving me his life saving advice. When I got done blubbering all over him for his life saving direction, he advised me that he was brand new at the hospital and had not even been employed at USC when I was in the hospital there the previous November. I even spoke to other staff at the hospital and they verified that he had not been employed at the hospital at the time, in fact, there was no one fitting his description who worked in the department at that time. It gave me a chil-was he an angel? You tell me.

John and Barbara Sturdivant