Laurie Schulte has undergone two liver transplants at the Penn Transplant Institute. In honor of the 10-year anniversary of her first life-saving transplant, she reflects back on the great moments and challenges she’s faced since and looks to the future.
It is the time of year that many people are writing their year in review and/or making their New Years’ resolutions. I, however, am not only looking back on 2015, but rather the entire past decade. 10 years ago on January 7, 2006 I received a life-saving liver transplant.
As a result of Wilson’s Disease, at the age of 24, I went into acute liver failure and was status 1A on the transplant list. My body was shutting down, other organs included, and there were no liver matches available. I could have (would have) died.
I am here today and able to share my story for two reasons (besides God): One, because of a family’s selfless decision to donate life and, two, because the Penn transplant team believed in me.
Being at the top of the transplant list means two things. It means that you are next in line for a transplant. It also means you are the next most likely person to die. I was a mere couple of days (if that) away from death. Instead of losing me, the Penn transplant team – my medical dream team – decided to give me a mismatched blood type liver. It was my only option and fortunately, it worked.
So what did I do with the past 10 years my donors and surgeons gifted me? I think the better question is “What didn’t I do?” I married the love of my life, bought two homes, got my first-ever dog, had a daughter and a son, progressed in my career, volunteered as a speaker on organ donation, traveled both inside and outside the country, and even met the family of my donor – just to name some of the major events.
In my opinion, though, the less major events were just as important. I witnessed my daughter’s first dance recital and soccer games and beamed (cried) with pride at her accomplishments. I was the matron of honor in my sister’s wedding. I rocked my son well beyond the time it took him to fall asleep. I held my husband’s hand. I talked to God on my way into work and found my way back to church on Sundays. I stopped to breathe and think and pray and love and appreciate.
Being a transplant patient hasn’t come without its challenges. In the past decade, I survived extensive physical and occupational therapy, a major bile duct reconstruction surgery, countless minor procedures including ERCPs, biliary drain placement, and frequent drain changes. These all lead to a second transplant six and a half years after my first (this time from a selfless donor who matched my blood type!), as well as hundreds of doctors’ visits, and routine and not-so-routine blood draws. I feared death and still struggle with that fear sometimes.
Clearly having a transplant has shaped my life and put me on the path that I am on now. And sometime through this journey I realized that all of this – taking the good times with the bad - is not just life as a transplant patient. It is life for everyone. While I may stand out among my family and friends as someone who has been through a lot, there are plenty of others who have as well.
I was given the rare and precious gift of a second (and third) chance at life. In honor of my donors, transplant team, and family and friends who have supported me along the way, I have chosen to put aside my challenges and celebrate all my blessings, not just as a New Year’s resolution but each and every day that I have been gifted. Because with every obstacle there is a miracle. So instead of looking forward to just 2016, I look instead to 2026, 2036, 2046, and however many more years I have to appreciate this gift. To be perfectly honest, it scares me as much as it excites me, but that’s life I guess.