Day 5: Liver Transplants




Two people in my life have had liver transplants, Don and Donna.

Don is my father-in-law, and Donna is my cousin.



My cousin Donna had received a transplant when we were both under 5.  She is a couple years older than me, and she was so little when she received her transplant.  I have this memory visiting her in the hospital when I was very young.  Tiny little girls snuggled up in a big hospital bed with a board game called Clue. 

Donna lived for over 30 years after that transplant.  Her near death experience at such a young age and continued struggles with health issues gave her such a deep faith.

     Donna and me at my 6th birthday party.

     Donna and me at my 6th birthday party.

If my family were to vote on who had the greatest faith among us, I might win a “good girl” award, but Donna would win the faith award.

She loved people well, and adored her son Logan.  When she went home to the Lord in March of 2013, I was just beginning a new faith adventure, international adoption.  I went to visit her in the hospital during her last days.  I wasn’t able to tell her our good news about beginning the adoption process, but somehow I knew that she was cheering me on.



The week I met my husband, in 1994, His dad found out that he needed a liver transplant.

He had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, and he had been told that he would die if he was not able to receive a liver transplant soon.  The damage to his liver told them that he had probably contracted the disease 10 years prior.

The doctors added him to a liver transplant list.

Don received a letter that stated he had been dropped from his heath insurance.  Then he received a phone call that he was no longer on the list for a liver transplant at Baylor because of his insurance situation.

But God had plans.

Don and his wife Diana found out about a wonderful transplant program in Oklahoma City.

He met with the doctors, and one doctor in particular, Dr. Nazih Zuhdi, took an interest in making sure he was approved for the list.

Dr. Zuhdi told the hospital committee to give Don Z insurance, and put him on the list.

Don and Diana would need to live temporarily in Oklahoma City while they waited for the call, and a couple local churches provided a parsonages during their wait.

By the time Don was put onto the list in Oklahoma City, James and I had been dating for about 18 months.  I had started college in southeastern Texas and decided to transfer to West Texas A&M, the school James was attending.  I wanted to be there for him when his dad got a transplant, and I really wanted to be there if his dad never got a transplant.

It was strange praying for a liver.  For God to answer that prayer, someone healthy would have to die.  I prayed anyway.  James and I were only 19.  I didn’t want James to lose his dad that young.  I didn’t want to lose Don either.  He had become a big influence in my life, and I really loved him.

I saw Don as my pastor, even though he didn’t have a church at that particular point in time.  Don often expressed how he missed preaching a great deal.  It was hard for him to sit on the sidelines when he wanted to be behind a pulpit.  Even with his failing health, Don looked for ways to continue to minister to others.  He would write newsletters to old friends in the ministry and send out copies of his old sermons on cassette tape.

God even used that bit of ministry, an old friend called him one day and said he had realized listening to one of his sermons that he had never given his life to Christ and he prayed right there in his car.

March 1, 1996, Don got the call.

Don rushed to the hospital, he was prepped for the 10 hour surgery, and his doctor told him, “I’m going to take your old liver out and you are going to be dead.  I’m going to put a new liver back in you and pray that God gives you life again.”

The surgery was successful.  

James called me and woke me up in my dorm before my classes started.  I had missed all the excitement.  Don had gotten the call the night before, rushed to the hospital.  James and his brother and sister had driven to Oklahoma City in the middle of the night to be there for the surgery.

I wanted to jump in the car that moment, but the responsible side of my personality kicked in.  I went to my classes and went to work at my job in the United grocery store bakery that night.  During my break I bought some “get well soon” balloons, and the next morning, I drove to Oklahoma City.

During his recover, Don sat his family down and told them, “I don’t want to go back to church as usual.  God has given me a second chance at life, and I know he doesn’t want me to waste it.”

During those two years struggling for his life and waiting for a liver, God had been giving him a new perspective on ministry.  Don told his family, “I know where we can do the greatest amount of good with the least amount of resources.  I know because I grew up there.  Let’s start a church in downtown Amarillo.”

And another faith adventure begins.  (More on that tomorrow.)

    Don and me at a church outreach in Citychurch's park.

    Don and me at a church outreach in Citychurch's park.

Most of us will never have one of our organs taken out and replaced with an organ from another human being.  That doesn’t mean we don’t put our faith in God concerning our health.

Isaiah 42:5 tells us that God gives breath to everyone, and Job 12:10 tells us that the life of every living thing is in God’s hand.

I have a tendency to worry about my health when I’m completely healthy.  Last month I had a lingering cough, and one morning I woke up with a pain in my abdomen.  I was sure surgery was in my future.  I was googling appendicitis.  As my brain found a corner of reason, I realized I had just pulled a muscle coughing, and I was totally fine.

I’m embarrassed to even admit I was freaking out over a pulled muscle.  I’ve seen so many people in my life depend on God through transplants, cancer, and surgeries.  I’ve seen people healed through straight up miracles.  Why did I run to Web MD with my minor stomach pain?

God forgive me for that.

Both Don and Donna are in my great cloud of witnesses.  God healed them, gave them more years on this earth, but eventually God took them home.  When Don died in December of 2009, 13 years after his transplant, I took comfort in this verse in Malachi.

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.
— Malachi 4:2 ESV

Don and Donna are both in Heaven where God has given them healing in His wings.  The burdens of their earthly struggles are gone, and they are leaping with joy.

Someday I will join them.

Usually I share a song with each blog post, today I am going to share two.  First, this song was a favorite of Don's while he was waiting for our transplant.
For my 13th birthday, my cousin Donna gave me the soundtrack from the movie Cocktail.  I can't hear this song without thinking of her.