My Story: The Gift of Life
By Robert "Bob" Young
God has always looked after me. When I was 13, I was hit by a car and thrown quite a distance down the road. I came away from that accident with a bruise the full length of my thigh on one side, and a similar sized road rash on the other. I missed one day of school. The bicycle was in two pieces under the car. It didn’t really connect with me then that God had plans for me, but it did years later.
In 1968, I was a Navy Hospital Corpsman working with Marines in a Combined Action Unit in Vietnam. I was basically “doctor” to a rural village of about 2,000 people during the day, and did my best to save Marine lives at night when we were attacked. I was wounded by a mortar round that exploded less than 6 feet from where I was. A mortar round is supposed to kill everything within 50 feet. My wound was so minor, I spent 3 days in the hospital and went back to my village. God had put his hand between me and that explosion. I thanked God, and came to trust that he was going to look out for me. I don’t know why because I surely don’t deserve it, but I know he does.
Nearly all of the Vietnamese villagers had sores on their arms and legs from working in the rice paddies. I was able to cure nearly all of them, and at 19, thought I could cure any infection.
Flash forward about 30 years, and I developed a sore on my shin that just would not heal. After working on it for six months, I finally broke down and went to a real doctor. He asked how I had treated it to date, and after hearing what I had to say, said that it should have healed.
At this point we started on another 6 months of looking for a cause and a cure. He would order tests (mostly blood work), and I would come back to get the results. Each time he didn’t have an answer, I would ask what we were going to do next. Finally, I came in one day and he asked a bunch of questions. One of the first was, “How much do you drink?” The answer was “one or two a month”, and he went on to ask more questions. Then he came back to the, “How much do you drink?” question. The answer was the same, as I had told the truth the first time. I then asked him what my liver panel looked like and he told me it looked like I drank about a fifth a night. He didn’t have an answer for the “why” it looked like that, but he had a plan of action.
My next stop was the Liver Transplant Group at UCSF Medical School. The doctor there went almost straight to the problem. One blood test later, and we had our answer. I had Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. Alpha-1 Antitrypsin is a chemical produced by the liver that tells the immune system that the lungs are a part of you and should not be attacked by your immune system. The only cure is a liver transplant.
I was told that I could go to Georgia and get a transplant in about 30 days, or stay home and it might take up to 3 years. The discrepancy set off alarms in my head, so I got on the internet and discovered the hospital in Georgia did about 5 transplants a year with a 40% success rate. The hospital in San Francisco did about 200 transplants a year with a 90% success rate. I decided patience was most definitely a virtue, and waited.
During the next 18 months, I got sicker and sicker. Many of my friends and relatives wanted to ask God to find me a liver. I could not agree to that as, at the time, only deceased donors were accepted for liver transplant. I was not going to ask God to take someone else’s life so that I might live. I trusted that God would do what was right for me according to his plan.
I did finally get the call and my transplant started late on June 3, 1998, and finished early the next morning. I began to get better almost instantly. I left the hospital after 6 days. Although there were a couple of hiccups, 21 years have passed. The last report from my transplant group is that they don’t know what will be my cause of death in the end, but it will not have anything to do with my liver. It is here to stay.
God has equipped our medical professionals with the knowledge and technology to extend life and give hope to the 114,000 men, women and children currently awaiting an organ transplant in this country. A new name is added to the list every 10 minutes, and an average of 20 people a day pass away while awaiting this gift. Because of God’s mercy, and the gift of another, I continue on to live a full and wonderful life. To God Be the Glory!