Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Utah transplant doctor, thriving with a new liver, races to help others

It always amazes me when I read about extraordinary goals organ transplant recipients set out to achieve, but this story of a liver recipient planning to take part in the Race Across America is the most ambitious I've heard about. The bicycle race starts in Oceanside, CA at The Oceanside Pier. Women June 16th, Men June 17th, Teams June 20th. It finishes 3,000 miles later in Annapolis, MD at The City Dock. June 26th - June 29th. Read all about it here.

Race Across America is an annual effort to raise awareness and funds for liver transplants, organized by Team Donate Life. Cyclists have raised more than $1 million each year for the past three years.
Team members ride for 30 minutes at a time during 12-hour shifts, and expect to spend a week traveling 3,000 miles across the country, nonstop.
The race begins Saturday in Oceanside, Calif., and it will end in Annapolis, Maryland.
To donate, visit

By Andrew Maddocks The Salt Lake Tribune

Going into his first routine physical in 20 years, physician Terry Box thought little of the occasional odd feeling in his left side.

Then the internist asked, "Did you know your liver's huge?"

In an instant, the veteran Utah liver transplant physician became the patient. A malignant tumor was growing in his liver.

After 13 years of caring for LDS Hospital patients before and after liver transplants, he knew the risks -- many died waiting for an organ. Even after surgery, rejection and relapse loomed.

"I was scared to death," the 57-year-old Box said. "Having seen what I had seen in medicine, obviously you think about all the terrible situations."

But seven years after his successful transplant and surgery, Box is putting his body to a new test -- he leaves Saturday for Race Across America, a 3,000-mile, cross country bicycle race to raise money and awareness about organ transplantation.

He's grateful for his own donated liver -- and the 23 years he has guided Utah patients through the same process at Intermountain Healthcare and now at University of Utah Health Care.

A new liver can literally save a patient's life, he says. "It's giving birth; it's giving renewal of life."

Fellow transplant physician Ray Thomason, Box's best friend and partner for 22 years, is joining him on the eight-man cycling team, the Liverators.

During the two-year window for transplants, Thomason said, more people die waiting than actually receive organs.

"It's absolutely tragic that people die waiting for a liver transplant," Thomason said.

When doctors found his tumor in 1999, Box says, he was not very sick, and he didn't join the liver transplant waiting list. Other patients were in worse condition, he felt. "I didn't need to be competing with them for an organ," he said.

But by 2002, his health had rapidly deteriorated and his name moved up the list quickly. As Box rolled into an LDS Hospital operating room in October, Thomason said goodbye.

Box's normally three-pound liver had become a 28-pound malignant mass. "He shouldn't have lived," Thomason said.

But he did -- and Thomason believes Box is the only transplant physician in the U.S. to receive a successful transplant.

"I really never doubted I would make it," Box said, also an associate professor at the U.

Having a doctor who was facing the same challenges was deeply comforting for Salt Lake City patient Stephen Wadsworth, now 65. The men were on the waiting list at the same time, and had their surgeries in the same month.

"He gave me a lot of hope, and encouraged me about the future," Wadsworth said.

Box, Thomason and other team members have trained for thousands of hours for the upcoming ride. Later this week, they will say a happier goodbye -- as they leave families and colleagues to fly to California and start the race Saturday.

“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”

Register to be a donor in Ontario or Download Donor Cards from Trillium Gift of Life Network
For other Canadian provinces click here

In the United States, be sure to find out how to register in your state at ShareYourLife.org or Download Donor Cards from OrganDonor.Gov

In Great Britain, register at NHS Organ Donor Register

In Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register

Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves

1 comment:

Douglas Lai said...

Wondering if you would like to be included in Utah Liver Families. My
daughter Eden has BA and had a transplant back in November she is two
years old. We have 20 or so families with different liver diseases
that meet a couple times a year.