Twenty Years of Life-Changing Liver Transplants
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"We're here to give them support,” said Richard Perez.
...so others don't have to go it alone.
Richard Perez spends a lot of time in the transplant unit at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
"I'm here most of the time, about four times a week."
He does it because he is a survivor.
"I found myself real sick at one point about 12 years ago,” Richard said. “They found out I had liver problems. Turned out to be cirrhosis."
Richard spent ten months on a waiting list before he received a new liver. After the transplant, after the healing, he was discharged; but he never really left.
"Most of us went through the same thing those folks are going through right now."
Richard helped found a network of volunteers who assist transplant recipients and those waiting for new organs.
"They want to see a survivor. Why not, right? It's perfect."
That work is nearly as important as that provided by the doctors and nurses.
"It's important to enlist all the help we can get,” said Dr. Mark Orloff. "There are so many questions that confront a patient and their family. The whole process is overwhelming."
Orloff heads a team that last year performed 44 liver transplants. The waiting list is three times that.
"The concept of dying from in-stage organ disease, liver disease... it's a miserable death, people are scared and the process of transplantation is conceptually overwhelming."
This week the hospital celebrates 20 years of providing the life-saving procedures.
"Wow. And I'm part of that 20 years. Almost half,” Richard said.
The number of transplants performed here could be even greater. It's a matter of supply and demand. There are about 900 people from the Rochester area on lists waiting to receive a new organ. That includes transplants of all kinds, highlighting the need for organ donors.
"So it really adds a new meaning to life. It's an opportunity to give,” Orloff said.
The painful decision of a donor's family saved Richard Perez's life.
"I saw my son graduate from college, I moved him several times through the United States. I was able to do something I thought I was not going to be able to do at all."
The ultimate gift is one that'll keep giving... if he has any say.
"Everything will be okay. Look at us. We're here. We're surviving."