The greatest gift: Man becomes living donor for ailing mom
“A smile a day goes a mile a day” is a family motto that Curtis Glenn heard from his mother from the time he was a little boy.
So it’s fitting that seeing her smile would make all the difference.
Two months ago, 41 year old Curtis gave his mother, Patricia Glenn, an unmatchable gift. The two underwent a living donor liver transplant at UCSF Medical Center.
Curtis, a Carmichael resident and Nutritional Services Manager at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, says the decision to donate a portion of his healthy liver to his ailing mother was easy. “There wasn’t even a question.”
Glenn’s mother became ill one year ago when she was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, a chronic disease that causes the degeneration of cells, inflammation, and thickening of the tissue in the organ.
They were told that options were limited; she would need a liver transplant to survive.
Nationally, there are over 17,000 patients on the donor waiting list for livers, with more added each day, according to the American Transplant Foundation. Though nearly 5,000 patients receive transplanted livers every year, more than 1,700 patients will die each year while on the waiting list.
Thankfully, the liver has a unique ability to regenerate itself, and with the help of medical advancements, a portion of a living donor’s healthy liver can now be transplanted into an ailing patient.
This type of living donor transplant typically provides a greater lifetime expectancy for the recipient.
The surgery is not without considerable risk. The entire liver is removed from the ailing recipient, and replaced with a significant portion of the donor’s healthy liver. Somewhat miraculously, within a short period of time, the liver in both individuals grows back to its original size.
According to ATP, a living donor is often the only option for those who have become too sick to wait for a deceased donor transplant.
Living donors reduce the waiting time, and simultaneously improve the chance for a successful transplant.
To be considered for a transplant, a willing donor must be available, be in good health, and have a compatible blood type. In Glenn’s case, he was a match.
He was told he needed to lose 40 pounds and be in the best shape that he could.
“Helping my mom was definitely the best motivation to lose that weight,” he says.
On the day of the surgery, Glenn spent over six hours in surgery while his mother lay in an adjacent operating room undergoing an eight hour surgery.
The first thing he did when he was able to get up after surgery was visit his mother’s room. “When she first saw my face she cried, broke down with tears of relief.”
“This was a great honor,” he said. “I was raised solely by my mom. She could be tough and disciplined, but she always taught us our life perspective: ‘Just keep smiling. Always stay positive. See things on the bright side.’”
This advice helped throughout his life, as well as the recovery process, which was painful. “It was real!”
Now that the pain has subsided, Glenn shares some of the insight he has gained from the experience.
“I work in a hospital, and to be in someone else’s care gave me a revitalized view of my profession. It opened my eyes to how grateful I am to be part of this caring family.”
He said he was also touched by the supportive thoughts and wishes of his colleagues and leadership team at SNMH.
“We truly work in a family environment and there is so much love I received from nurses and other ancillary staff. I know even more now how important it is to care for the people that care for your family when they are sick.”
But, he says, it was his own family that made him feel like a true hero.
“You’re never rich in life until your wife and kids look at you this way. It is very fulfilling. If I hadn’t been a match, my mother would have been on the donor list, waiting…. I’m grateful.”
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