At 29 years old, Dan felt invincible. Until he was told his liver was failing.
His ulcerative colitis had progressed, propelling this otherwise healthy young man into a world of uncertainty.
After undergoing months of close monitoring of his abnormal liver enzymes and treatment for colitis, Dan received a life-altering diagnosis: His gastroenterologist Gregory Ginsberg, MD told Dan that he had primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), an incurable condition of the liver.
His only hope to a cure was through an eventual liver transplant.
At first, Dan was in denial. He remembers thinking, “I’m way too healthy. I’ll never need a liver transplant. I’m going to try to fight this as long as I can and I’m going to be okay.”
A southern New Jersey resident, Dan had a list of hospitals to choose from to receive his ongoing medical care, yet he was unsure of where to go. After speaking with the family of a childhood friend who was treated for PSC at Penn, he ultimately chose Penn Medicine for his own medical care.
In mid-2004, Dan’s liver disease had declined, and it was clear that it was time for a transplant.
Dan’s Liver Transplant Team
When he received this news, Dan turned to the physician and team he trusted, Dr. Ginsberg and Penn Medicine. They referred him to Abraham Shaked, MD, director of the Penn Transplant Institute.
Dan met the transplant team’s physicians, nurses, social workers and his very own transplant coordinator.
He says that having a whole team dedicated to his care and recovery was vital: “I could call [the transplant coordinator] and run things by her… At the time, the resource was so critical because when you’re faced with a life-threatening illness, in a potential situation where only a transplant is going to save your life, you as a person have so much on your mind that having that dedicated resource there to help navigate those choppy waters is invaluable.”
Dan’s journey to transplant came to a screeching halt when, just before Thanksgiving, he lost his job and health insurance.
Fortunately, with the support of his then girlfriend (and now wife), Sue, and the help of Penn’s financial coordinator, he was able to obtain health insurance.
He was officially put on the transplant list in January 2005, just five short days his 32nd birthday.
Liver Transplant Time
Six long weeks after being placed on the liver wait list, Dan received his new liver.
While being admitted to Penn Medicine for pain and declining health, he was greeted by his transplant surgeon with the news that a liver had become available.
Although his recovery was complicated with serious organ rejection and an 18-day hospital stay, the transplant team at Penn was able to control his symptoms, address the rejection and release him home to begin his new life. A new life which included proposing to Sue.
Dan’s recovery was not only difficult physically, but also emotionally.
“In those moments when you feel lost and you don’t know how you’re going to get through it, you need a support system but you also need a medical team that you are confident in,” Dan says. “You have this family of people at Penn Medicine that you didn’t have the day before who are now rallying around you through your darkest moments. They’re not just there to take care of you physically, but they want to see you survive.”
Now, 11 years out, Dan is healthy and active again.
"I’m incredibly grateful for the second chance at life," he says. "I certainly have no regrets about any decisions I made about Penn; I owe them a debt of gratitude that I won’t ever be able to repay. "
Because of his new liver, his life has become what it was meant to be….fulfilling. In addition to exercising and becoming a triathlete, Dan is spending quality time with his family.
Life After Liver Transplant
Dan attributes his ability to thrive to the love and support of his wife, the life-saving transplant he received at Penn, and the tremendous sacrifice his donor made.
Even 11 years following his transplant, Dan continues to appreciate that he was the beneficiary of someone’s life changing loss. He wants his donor and donor’s family to be proud of the life he’s living through the gift of organ donation.
He hopes to continue thriving, not only for himself and his family, but so that other transplant patients can hear stories of how a little bit of hope and a skilled transplant team can offer them a second chance at life.