The Gift of Life: Cousin serves as living donor

by | Nov 14, 2013 | 0 comments

This article originally appeared on the Gallia Hometown Herald

It was during a family reunion when 21-year-old Mike Stapleton learned his cousin, 43-year-old Keith Davison, was fighting for his life. Stapleton said he had known his cousin was battling liver disease, but did not know until he overheard him discussing his condition with another family member who had commented on Davison’s yellowing eyes, that it would eventually be fatal.

Davison had been diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, a disease of the bile ducts of the liver, 17 years ago. Temporary treatments can help manage the disease, but Davison said eventually patients need a transplant to survive. Davison was creeping toward the moment and has been on transplant lists in both Pittsburgh, Penn. and Ohio for four years.

“It’s just a slowly self-destructive process,” said Davison.

Little did he know that organ donation would not come from a stranger, but from a family member half his age. Out of the blue, Davison said Stapleton offered to be a donor. From that point on, it was a whirlwind of testing and evaluations. Davison and Stapleton turned to the University of Pittsburgh, who worked with live organ donors.

Davison said the process isn’t easy. The hospital has a variety of checks in place to ensure the donor is not being coerced in any way. At any point, even when the surgery starts, if the doctors see any type of distress from the donor, the surgery would be stopped. Davison did not know if the surgery took place until he woke up from surgery.

It was not an easy decision for Davison to accept Stapleton’s offer.

“I experienced all at the same time excitement, hope, fear. Just a fear of rejection, fear for his well-being, because that was one of my biggest fears was going in there, me surviving and something happening to him. That would be hard to live with,” said Davison.

Stapleton made Davison promise, no matter what happened, to never regret the surgery.

“He saved my life. He’s basically my hero,” said Davison.

Within 10 days of the hospital transplant board approving their case, the two were in surgery, which took place October 8, 2013. Both are now back home in Gallia County, though it was expected Davison would have to remain in Pittsburgh through the end of November. Instead of laboring in the hospital, Davison pushed to get back on his feet, walking six flights of stairs shortly after being cleared to walk stairs.

“I walked down six flights and then back up six flights. It took me forever. It took me almost a half hour to do those flights of steps because I would get winded real easy. I could do a flight or flight and half and then I would just have to stand there and wait to catch my breath,” said Davison.

And when he reached his floor again, Davison said he was met by a member of the transplant team who not only shook his hand but asked him to talk to other transplant patients about the importance of fighting through the pain and getting back on your feet quickly after surgery.

A short time later, Davison was released to a hotel and then a week later released to return to Gallia County, where he is now recovering at home with his wife, Renee, and 9-year-old daughter, Krystal.

Davison’s progress will be watched closely over the next three months to ensure he is recovering and that his body is showing no signs of rejecting the liver. He will continue being monitored his entire life, though the time span between tests will lengthen over the years.

“The neat thing is, my daughter, she’s never seen me well before. I’ve always had kind of tinted skin from the liver disease and tinted eyes. Now she looks at my eyes and they’re white and she’s said, ‘Dad I can’t believe how white your eyes are.’ She’s just in amazement,” said Davison.

It was Davison’s daughter that made Stapleton consider donating a portion of his liver to his cousin.

“I didn’t want his daughter growing up without a father if I could help it,” said Stapleton.

And while the surgery may have been painful, Stapleton said the pain was worth the reward.

“This whole thing has been 100 percent worth it. The pain was nothing compared to the satisfaction,” said Stapleton.

Stapleton too is on the mend and is expected to return to his original health, as the liver is regenerative.

As for those facing similar health crises, Davison urged them to do their homework on transplant lists in various areas and get on as many lists as possible.

“When you’re diagnosed, don’t let the disease run your life,” said Davison. “You manage the disease.”

For those considering being organ donors, Davison said, “When you go to donate, you’re not just saving a blank face out there. You’re saving somebody’s dad; you’re saving their mom or you’re saving another child.”