Reporting Robbie Owens
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Dana Pack spent so many years feeling bad while dealing with debilitating, energy-draining abdominal pain, that she’d forgotten what it was like to feel good.
Twelve years ago doctors found tumors on Pack’s liver –– too many to count –– and, although benign, they just kept growing.
“Like, I would go to work… and by the time I’d come home, the one tumor that was hanging off the front, it would be protruding like it was trying to bust through my skin,” she remembered.
The Muskogee, Okla., mother of four needed a liver transplant. But, no family members were a good match. Pack went on a wait list. But, the tumors just kept growing.
“And there are other patients like her that may well die on the list if they don’t get an option of a living donor,” says Dr. Goran Klintmalm.
Dr. Klintmalm heads up the Simmons Transplant Institute at Baylor University Medical Center. He says the demand for organs is such that living donor transplants may be the only option for patients who are seriously ill but not sick enough to be placed higher on the list.
Dana Pack was one of those patients.
But three weeks ago, she was given back her life through the generosity of a co-worker. She still seems stunned at his family’s generosity.
“I just felt like there’s no way I could ask John, let alone Angie, to put her husband’s life in jeopardy for me; why would they do that, ya know?”
But, co-worker Johnny Brinlee did just that, with his wife’s blessing. Still, he was not the ideal candidate. He wasn’t family, and was carrying a little extra weight.
But, Brinlee, who also pastors an Oklahoma church, says he wasn’t hearing any naysayers, because he’d already gotten his confirmation from on high.
“When you’re being driven by the Lord, he makes a way and it is possible,” he said.
So Brinlee shrugged off concerns that his health wouldn’t allow him to donate, or that his liver would be fatty.
“In my spirit I know that I’m the one,” says Brinlee. “Well, comes to find out, the big guy has a lean liver, and he had an oversized liver. See, God equips ya when he sends ya.”
In living liver donation, individuals donate a portion of their liver. This approach works because the liver has the ability to regenerate itself in both the donor and recipient after transplantation.
However, it is an “extremely complicated surgery”, says Dr. Klintmalm, because doctors must know how to take enough liver to help the patient without taking so much that the donor is harmed.
It remains a very rare procedure and the Simmons Institute at Baylor is the only medical facility in the Southwest performing the procedure right now, says Dr. Klintmalm.
Dr. Klintmalm also hand-picked the team of physicians and nurses responsible for Pack’s successful transplant surgery three weeks ago. The first such surgery performed at Baylor in more than a decade.
So, after living with pain for so many years—how’s the patient, now?
“I feel good!” says an enthusiastic Pack. “I haven’t felt this good in ten years!”
But, she’s still moved to tears when she thinks of the selflessness of her co-worker and his family.
“How do you thank them?” asks Pack, wiping away tears. “There’s no way to thank them. I feel like I’m family to them, now. Thank you doesn’t cover it.”