When Heather Hunt of Longmeadow, Massachusetts learned that she was an ideal liver donor to save her sister’s life, she was overjoyed. Her sister Kristen Wolff, a 20-year resident of Flower Mound, developed liver disease a few years ago.
“This came on really, really fast,” said Heather. “We, like most people, didn’t know anything about liver disease. What we saw in Kristin, for a year or so before she was diagnosed, was some sort of symptom that you would think would be low sugar. For example, she was a little more fatigued then you’d expect her to be. I actually made her go to get a blood test to see if she was pre-diabetic because of what I was noticing whenever I spent time with her.
“And in no time flat she had something that appeared to be a bleeding ulcer. Soon after learning about the continuous symptoms of deteriorating health, I came to Flower Mound to help. We consulted her local doctor and told him that she was having these various symptoms that we seem to be sort of chasing, and he said she was in the end stage of liver disease and needed a transplant, otherwise she would die.”
“Now that I understood what was happening, I could go back and check off all the boxes for liver disease,” Kristen said, adding, “but unless you have that diagnosis; who looks up liver disease?” They discovered that the list of causes for the disease is long. “My sister went from an indication of liver disease to full blown end stage, at least to our knowledge, within about 6 months. It could have been in early summer (2013) that she should have gone to see a doctor, but there was nothing that she felt would have forced her to do so. The summer of 2013, when she made a trip to Cape Cod, we saw that she was appearing fatigued, then kind of out of it where something didn’t seem quite right, but nothing beyond that. Then, when she came back sometime in the fall, there was the episode with an ulcer and some bleeding. However, it turned out not to be an ulcer, but the first indication of liver disease.”
Heather went on to explain: “For liver disease you get a meld score, a combination of your blood factors that puts you on a scale, and if you are really high on the scale you are eligible for a liver from a cadaver. Lots of people die because they don’t make it up the list in time. Some people get on the list and later have to be taken off because they get too sick to even get a liver. So, where Kristin was on the list wasn’t really horrible because her numbers were high enough to get on the list, but not high enough to get a liver. She probably could have lived some amount of time, maybe years; it just depends with her sick liver, but not move up the ladder. Then she began to have some gall bladder attacks, accompanied by acute pain. In the normal person, if you had her kind of gall bladder problem they would just remove the gall bladder and you’d be home and recovering. For somebody with a sick liver the fatality rate to remove the gall bladder was incredibly high. There was also a severe risk if she had gall bladder infection.”
They had never heard of living donors for liver recipients, but, as soon as Heather heard about it she said, “Sign me up!” A series of tests began. “We had to be a compatible blood type which is an incredible amount of testing to make sure I was perfectly healthy, with no underlying issues whatsoever. Bone scans, CT scans, and MRI’s were part of the process.” What I learned from talking to these remarkable women is that people can donate a portion of their liver and the organ would soon regenerate to as much as 90% of its original size.
“Heather was taken first for the surgery and they looked at me and said unless everything goes perfect we won’t go forward,” Kristen said. “So I had to wait a couple of hours until they said it went well and they were ready for me.” Heather’s surgery took about 4 hours while Kristen’s was 6-7 hours. Heather said she heard a funny story about her sister. “After I was in for a few hours she apparently said to someone, “Gee, I wonder if we should really go through this?” Heather stayed in the hospital for about 5 days, which was average. “I had no issues, just some nausea, and then they decided I needed to go home to get some food. The minute I walked out of the hospital I felt fantastic. Then Kristin was released several days later.”
Kristin had complications after her surgery, so it required her sister to stay for a while longer than anticipated. Therefore, last year, while Kristen was recuperating in Baylor Grapevine, Heather spent February to April in Flower Mound taking care of her sister’s two sons.
The Massachusetts resident commented on how caring the people in Flower Mound were, offering rides to the hospital, food, and whatever help they could give. She made many new friends here and remains amazed at how considerate everyone is. “One of the many neat things about Flower Mound is the PTA,” she said. “Kristin has been so active with the PTA that she feels a sense of community. Her sons started at Donald Elementary and when she first walked into the school she fell in love with it and with the people. My sister’s involvement with the PTA has made her life so much more fruitful.”
Writing articles like this is what makes my life more fruitful. The moment I met them for the interview I knew I was going to enjoy the company of these 2 wonderful women. Their story is what life and true sacrifice is all about! You could just feel the love they shared as they talked about their early years and the fun they had as kids. It was easy to see that either one would be willing to risk her health and her life for the other. Having some loved ones in my family who were organ transplant recipients, it was a distinct honor to meet these ladies. The sisters started: www.liveonorgandonation.org, which promotes organ donation awareness and provides support to living organ donors and recipients.
Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor. In addition, Bob has 7 published books that include “Murder in Black and White,” “City to Die For,” “Powers that Be,” “Ruthie’s Kids,” “Deadly to Love,” “Short Stories of Life and Death” and “Out of Sight,” all of which can be found on Amazon.com and other major online bookstores.