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A Tale of Two Liver Transplants: Altruistic Compassion for a Compassionate Altruist

03.30.2015Real World Health Care

Real World Health Care

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By Nathan Sheon

“Talk about your life changing in an instant,” Helen said, remembering her first diagnosis of acute liver failure. The doctor told her family there was nothing more to be done, and she was given two weeks to live.

Helen Bozzo had spent most of her time being a mother. Her husband, a farmer, worked long hours in the fields in their rural California farm, and early on in their marriage the couple decided that she would stay home to care for their three children. She was the “homeroom mother,” volunteering in classes and with the school’s administration, PTA and athletics department. Helen’s passion was helping others, and not just in the school.

Eventually moving into the town, Helen enjoyed taking others into her home – her children’s friends, her son’s comrades from the Marine Corps – she always had a full house and enjoyed taking these friends in like her family.

“I enjoyed cooking for everyone, reading, knitting and gardening,” she said. “Still things I enjoy doing today, but loving and helping people is my number one pleasure in life.”

Helen had returned from what she remembers as a great family vacation to Disneyland when she began to get ill quickly. Her doctor had her admitted to her local hospital where, after receiving tests and specialists’ opinions, she was given that shocking diagnosis.

But her family could not accept that. They sought a second opinion, and got Helen an appointment at a local cancer center. Here she was evaluated and admitted to the hospital, where she spent a month undergoing “every test known to man” and waiting desperately for an answer. All that was clear was that her liver and now her kidneys were failing. She was placed on dialysis.

“I was going downhill fast,” Helen recalls.

After much deliberation, Helen’s doctors decided to put her on the transplant list. Eight days later, on April 29, 2007, a suitable liver was available and she had the transplant. Her health began to improve immediately.

More than a third of people on the transplant list die each year waiting for an organ, according to Helen. She would later come to realize just how lucky she was, saying, “The odds of finding a match in such an acute critical case as mine are astronomical,” she said. “The doctors told me later that I was within hours of death.”

For the time being, Helen was in the clear. She had great insurance and her payment plan kept her bills covered. Though she was in debt, she was able to keep her medications coming. Considering how hard her recovery was, that was a very good thing. It took Helen a year to be able to walk again, but she eventually made a full recovery.

For the next four years, things went well for Helen. She became active again, and that meant re-embracing her spirit of altruism. She became active in the organ donor/recipient community, particularly in a liver transplant support group in which she helps others through the process of getting a transplant. She became a California Donate Life Ambassador, speaking at various organizations about the importance of becoming an organ donor. What energy Helen had, she gave to others.

Shortly before her third walk with the American Liver Foundation’s “Walk for Life,” Helen decided she had to see her doctor. She had started feeling tired after a recent road trip with a friend, and now she was feeling worse. To her dismay, the doctor’s test showed some major problems. After ten days of testing in the hospital, her liver was failing again. She was placed on the “Status 1” list in five states, the top of the transplant list.

“It was life or certain death,” Helen said.

Three days later, on September 26, 2011, Helen had her second liver transplant.

Along with this transplant, however, came three expensive new medications that her insurance would not cover. Charging thousands of dollars to her credit card every month, Helen was becoming massively over-extended. She called every agency she could, but no one could help her until she found the HealthWell Foundation. HealthWell is a nationwide non-profit providing financial assistance to insured patients who are still struggling to afford the medications they need (and sponsor of this blog). Helen qualified for a grant that helped cover her copays for her medications.

Now, Helen and her husband are back on their feet. As always, Helen turned her attention to paying it forward to others as soon as she could, donating to the HealthWell Foundation, continuing to support transplant recipients and raising over $25,000 in her walks for research and awareness of liver disease and failure. She spends time with her ever-growing family and her husband, with whom she just celebrated 40 years of marriage. When she’s not helping others or enjoying the love of her family, she still likes to knit, garden and cook, and hopes to see all 50 states one day.

“We are so very thankful to the HealthWell Foundation,” Helen said. “I know of families in our transplant support group that have lost their homes because they were in the same situation we were in. Thankfully we found the HealthWell Foundation in time. The home we had worked so hard for, we were able to keep. The peace of mind in knowing that every month when I went to the pharmacy I would have the money to pay for my medications meant everything to our family. The stress was gone and I could focus on my recovery in peace.”

We at RealWorldHealthCare are thrilled to see patients like Helen in such good places, doing such wonderful things. Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

To read this on the RWHC blog, click here.