By Patrice Stewart, The Decatur Daily, Alabama.
The call often comes in the middle of the night.
But it's a call you've been wishing for and waiting for, and time is critical.
You head to the hospital, knowing that somewhere a doctor is retrieving an organ that may soon put you back on the road to a healthy life.
Wayne and Betty Hicks of Hartselle remember the phone call that awakened them at 10:30 p.m. Feb. 17, a Sunday. Sleep was replaced by anticipation, and they headed for UAB Hospital long before the designated 7 a.m. time to report for his transplant.
The Hicks family members are big believers in organ donation, because you never know when you are going to need a transplant -- or two.
Wayne recalled a T-shirt he saw at the hospital: "Don't take your organs to heaven -- heaven knows they're needed here."
"I have always believed in organ donation," said daughter Laura Collins. "I believe that if the Lord takes me, someone else is welcome to anything that can help them."
"There is such as great need for donated organs," said Betty, who also has had her driver license marked for organ donation. "Those helicopters come and go 24/7 at UAB. And there's such a great change after people get these donated organs."
She spent enough time at UAB while her husband was getting his two liver transplants to note a lot of these changes.
"You can see them walking the halls and getting their color back. It's a whole new life," she said. "It's amazing what the doctors can do now."
Hicks has witnessed much of what modern medicine can do with a closer vantage point than he might have cared for.
"They can do some amazing things, but there are a lot of potential problems that can pop up," he said. "But they do a lot of liver transplants at UAB, and their survival success rate is the best in the country. And Dr. Steve Bynon and Dr. Devin Eckhoff and the others are top-notch people."
Wayne said his surgery took only 31/2 hours, while he was told that years ago it required 11 hours and three months in the hospital. He spent about 45 days there for two transplant surgeries, an unusual situation.
It has been 30 years since he began having swelling and arthritis-type symptoms and ended up at UAB with elevated liver enzymes. The diagnosis was primary biliary cirrhosis, a chronic inflammation of the liver.
"They said they didn't know what caused it, but it wasn't drinking or drug use," Wayne said. They told him it was a slowly progressing disease that could eventually lead to lesions that could turn into malignant tumors on the liver and wanted him to come for an annual check, which he has done since 1980.
Last August they found some lesions, which later CAT scans showed were growing, and he was placed on the transplant list in November. Later on, he was moved higher on the list as his condition worsened.
They were ready when the call came Feb. 17, and the family was delighted to see how well he did immediately after the first transplant. He came home within two weeks of the transplant, but then he began running high fevers and twice had to go back to UAB.
The second time ended up as a 32-day stay, because a blood clot had blocked nutrients and oxygen to his new liver, and a second transplant was done April 5. He had more complications after that and stayed in Birmingham nearly a month after the second transplant.
And during his time in the hospital, his daughter was sent to UAB after fainting from dehydration and morning sickness. His wife had to run back and fourth from the husband on the eighth floor to the daughter on the fourth floor.
"But finally I was able to put on a mask and walk down the hall to see Laura," Hicks recalled.
He was quite weak after two such surgeries so close together, but he has slowly been getting his strength back and trying to walk and get some exercise.
"It's a delicate balance," said Hicks, who will be on anti-rejection drugs the rest of his life but is already enjoying golf and some normal activities again.
"It breaks your heart to see the condition some of those people at UAB are in, with nothing available for them," said Betty. "God does answer prayers. Most people are blessed to receive one transplant, and to have a second opportunity ... this was meant to be."
As the Alabama Organ Center at UAB suggests, Wayne has written a thank-you note to the family of his liver donor, and they might eventually make contact through the center. Meanwhile, the Hicks family remembers them daily.
"I don't know who they are or where they are, but we have prayed for them," Wayne said.
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