Thursday, October 6, 2011
Life after liver transplant is good
By SUE WATSON
A Holly Springs native is proud to be alive after receiving a liver transplant. He believes his story could benefit others who may have to undergo such operations to extend their life.
Harold Conrad grew up in Holly Springs, graduated from Holly High, and worked a while at a sandpaper factory before moving on to a career which included running a bread route. Up until about five years ago he noticed he was tired and rundown and had to stop at the top of the stairs to catch his breath. It was getting harder and harder to work and he retired August 2, 2009, from the bread route.
He went in for a checkup four or five years ago due to his chronic fatigue and the doctor determined his numbers were not right.
“He said I would eventually have to have a liver transplant,” Conrad said. “I wondered how I could have a bad liver. I never drank, smoked, or used drugs.”
Looking back over his history, Conrad said doctors suspected he may have acquired Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion he received after a wreck at age 18. The Hepatitis which caused cirrhosis had likely lain dormant for years, he said.
Conrad said a person’s worst enemy when facing a devastating diagnosis is to go into denial. He hopes others who face such life-threatening issues will take heart.
“If you find out you have this issue, don’t go into denial. Go to the doctor and do what they tell you to do,” Conrad said.
His energy is back up to what it should be and was like 12 years ago, he said.
“I was tired because blood was not getting through my body right,” he said.
“They (doctors) refer to me, and I say this humbly, as their miracle guy. That’s because I was in the hospital for rehabilitation 95 days. One day my fever spiked and I had to have another surgery.”
Doctors put Conrad in an induced coma for 28 days afterward to help his body endure the ordeal. He had to learn to walk and talk again after he awoke October 29. It was really mid-November before Conrad really remembers being awake.
During the entire ordeal at the hospital his wife was by his side. She brought him food, since he didn’t like the hospital food, and visited twice a day almost every day. He said he is grateful for her support during the whole process.
Conrad said he would go through it all again if he had to.
“One thing you must have is a strong family support system,” he said. “My wife Lisa, step-daughter Kristina, sister Norma and cousins Sarah, Peggy and Connie were always there for me and saying prayers for my full recovery, and today I can say those prayers for me were answered completely.”
His experience is life-changing. He said the surgeries changed his personality to the opposite of what it had been.
“It kind of revved up my motor a little bit,” he said. “I am more understanding of people. I don’t have to get in the last word. I don’t get upset when Ole Miss loses a game, but I am a lot happier when they win.”
A long-range goal is to play golf.
Conrad said he was very afraid the day his doctor gave him his prognosis – the only thing available was a full-fledged transplantation. It is the toughest surgery a person can undergo, his doctor said.
The transplant took seven hours, Conrad was in Intensive Care for a week and in transition for a week when he had to undergo a second surgery to correct what he calls internal plumbing related to his bile duct. Doctors thought they might lose the donor liver and do another liver transplant, but luckily the first liver survived intact.
His doctors called the new liver “a match made in heaven” and Conrad has had no rejection issue so far.
He spoke of his doctor’s demeanor as “confident and a bit cocky.”
“I want him to be cocky,” Conrad said.
His doctor, Michael Marvin, the main liver transplant surgeon at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, likes to keep conversation on the light side.
“You are in as good a shape as you can be in to be in the shape you are in,” he told Conrad.
His diseased liver was found to be hardened – weighing three pounds instead of the normal five pounds, and hard as a rock. His blood was bypassing the liver and going straight to his spleen, he said. Doctors said he had about six months to live without a transplant.
“I did not know how sick I was,” he said. “I think of those two guys down there (Jeff and Jonathan Nichols of Byhalia) and keep them in my prayers,” he said. “I was raised Baptist and my wife is Catholic and I was prayed for in my darkest days. When Baptist and Catholics can both pull in the same direction, it has to be good.”
Conrad recently had his checkup and his doctors say he is cleared for another year.
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