On June 17th 2015 my brother, Day, became a hero. At the age of 21 he put his life on hold to donate his liver to our Dad who was suffering from cancer. This selfless act will hopefully extend our Dad’s life by over 5 years. To say I was proud would be an understatement, for my brother has shown true bravery throughout the entire process of donation from the initial assessments, to the dawn of the operation and finally the recovery which involved four days in intensive care.
The morning before the operation myself, my sister (Shani) and her boyfriend (Andy) went to the hospital to walk Day down to theater. Needless to say he hadn’t had much sleep and was pretty nervous, a feeling that resonated throughout the family. However, this feeling really hit home when we entered the elevator that would take Day down to theater. We all squeezed in next to Day who was dressed in a gown and lying in his hospital bed, the doors closed and the silence set in.
When the elevator doors opened we walked out to face the entrance to the theater and the family took turns to wish him well. Looking into my brother’s eyes I could sense the fear he concealed and which echoed in the pit of my stomach. Holding his hand I gave a nod of confidence followed by a long hug and told him I loved him before walking out of sight to briefly allow the emotion to consume me. They wheeled him off and the doors closed. After composing ourselves, we headed up to the ward where Dad was waiting for his summoning.
We tried to keep spirits high with a joke here and there to conceal our angst. My Dad, as always, had a brave face on, but occasionally his worry for my brother would surface. It must have been hard to even agree to a living donor with the knowledge that a perfectly healthy family member could come to harm. The hours passed and the nurse summoned Dad to the theater. We entered the elevator one last time and once again its silence consumed us.
The next 3hrs were mostly spent sitting in the ICU reception. It was around 1pm that I received a phone call informing me that Day’s operation had gone very well and they were sewing him up. At 3.30pm I was told that he was stable and that we could see him. Myself and our Mum were the first to go in. I had not prepared myself to see my little brother fresh from surgery and in such a fragile state. The relief of knowing that he was OK coupled with the sight of him riddled with tubes, eyes rolling from the effects of the anesthetic, filled me with emotion that I could not conceal. Despite just having major surgery Day was able to give us a big smile and crack a joke or two – to my protest he said he was going to pay for me to have an enema and started asking the nurses if they could arrange one!
Dad’s operation also went very well and we were able to see him in ICU at 10:30pm. In comparison to Day, he really didn’t look good. Dad had a very yellow tinge, a breathing tube and was heavily sedated, despite this the nurses reassured me that he was stable and would be OK. I was also told that, although unresponsive, he could hear me. I told him that he was doing really good, about how Day’s operation was flawless and that he was already cracking jokes. After everyone had seen Dad we all headed to the hotel which would be our base for the next week.
Day was in ICU for a total of four days before he was taken to the ward and was back home on day 7 (which is the case for most donors). His recovery was jaw dropping, sitting up in a chair on the second day, walking around ICU on the third and managing stairs on the sixth day. This is not to say that his recovery wasn’t a challenge. In ICU he struggled to keep food down and things like throwing up, sneezing and coughing caused considerable pain. To top it off, lack of sleep, pain and the trauma of the whole experience brought on mild depression and he just wanted to be left alone. Once out of ICU Day was able to get more sleep and he quickly became more positive. After returning home he quickly relaxed back into his role of the annoying younger brother and, other than a slight hunch from the tightness of the healing scar, it was almost impossible to tell he had just had major surgery.
Dad, on the other hand, has had a far more challenging recovery. He was in ICU for 7 days and discharged after a total of 3.5 weeks in hospital. The breathing tube was in for 3 days and they had to sedate him after he tried to pull it out. Once the tube was removed and the sedative wore off, Dad quickly got the name ‘Chatty man’ for he would not stop talking, all of which was gibberish and as a result of the pain medication – he now tells me that he does not remember much of ICU and refutes the gibberish he came out with. My Dad was a complex case (due to his numerous health issues) and this made it even harder than usual for the doctors to strike a balance between the various medications (including blood thinners and anti-rejection drugs). This inevitably resulted in good days and bad days. Eventually Dad made it to the ward where he endured more bad days than good, plagued with nausea, back pain, excessive bleeding and other symptoms. Despite this, most visits I made tended to have signs of progress from drips and drains being removed to seeing him stand and walk. When we eventually got him home, it was clear that he still had a long way to go and the stark difference between his and Day’s recovery became apparent.
Dad has now been home for 6 days and Day for 25. Although the hardest part is over, both still have a long journey ahead of them; taking approximately 6 months for a full recovery. However, Dad can be comforted by the fact that he has an abundance of time ahead of him, while Day can relax in the knowledge that he has done something extraordinary and given the gift of life.