7 Stories of Hope: ‘I Was Granted a Miracle’ — New procedure allows the transplanting of older livers and other organs
– BY PAULA NEELY –
Last Election Day, Weldon Bradshaw, a 64-year-old teacher and cross-country coach at Collegiate School in Richmond, learned that he would be dead within a week unless he received a liver transplant.
Bradshaw said his systems were “shutting down” as a result of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the liver, inflaming the bile ducts, eventually causing liver failure.
“I was determined to stay alive,” he recalled. “I’ve always given people advice to stay in the game and don’t quit. After 40 years of being a parent and a coach, it was time to walk the walk.”
His surgeon, Dr. Robert A.Fisher, director of the liver transplant program at the Hume-Lee Transplant Center at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, said the cause of PSC is unknown. He stressed that Bradshaw had taken incredibly good care of himself.
Miraculously, on Day Six with death knocking at his door, Bradshaw received a “pristine” donor liver from an 84-year-old woman, the oldest liver ever transplanted in the U.S. into a patient so sick, according to Fisher.
‘I WAS GRANTED A MIRACLE’
A new transplant protocol that Fisher developed reduces the risk of using older organs, which enables VCU to use organs that are about 10 years older than organs used by other transplant centers in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky (UNOS Region 11).
Using older organs will help save more people on the waiting list. Currently, about 25 to 30 percent of people on the list die before they receive a transplant.
In the past year, Fisher’s team has saved 60 lives with liver transplants, including eight people who received livers from donors ages 65 or older. “All of them are still working,” he said.
As Fisher’s protocol becomes available to the general medical community, the growing number of organ donors over age 65 will be even more important, he said. “Livers that were once considered marginal are now considered an important resource.
“Bradshaw was going to be dead in a few days, but he left the hospital seven days after he received the transplant. That’s a testament to him, to his willpower and his strength … He should be able to go back to running and teaching,” Fisher said.
For Bradshaw, it was a matter of being at the right place at the right time in history.
“I was granted a miracle,” Bradshaw said. “Now, I wonder, ‘What can I do to help people?’ I want to honor this gift.”
Paula Neely is a Richmond-based writer.