By Sajith Varma
I didn't want to write about this. I hate sharing personal miseries with others. I've never done it before. But now, I think I should; because if it might inspire a person to donate an organ, it could change the life of at least one of the countless patients awaiting transplant surgeries.
This is also the tale of a noble soul who came forward confidently to donate an organ to an absolute stranger without any kind of monetary motive.
On the 12th of February 2011, I was admitted to the ICU of the Medical Trust Hospital in Kochi after vomiting a huge amount of blood and an episode of memory loss.
The diagnosis came as a big shock to my family. It was non-alcoholic liver cirrhosis – the very same ruthless ailment that took my father away from us. There were no symptoms of liver problem until then.
I was young at around 26 and I knew how bad this could get. I had seen it happening to my dad.
The image of my dad struggling to sit up or even breathe sent a chill down my spine. My spirits went down. The big dreams I had built collapsed. I began hating life.
The doctors stated that I needed a liver transplant surgery, sooner or later. There were two options: a close member of the family could donate a portion of his/her liver or else, I had to be in the list of patients waiting for a cadaver organ.
At 55, my mother was deemed unfit and my brother wasn’t preferred, as hereditary reasons were taken into consideration. So I had to wait for a cadaver liver; or in cruel terms, I had to wait for someone to die.
On discharge, I was advised to follow a healthy lifestyle with a strict diet and exercises which were essential to keep me fit until surgery. I followed it.
Salt restriction was imposed. I went for morning walks and jogs and exercised promptly. I banned junk food from my routine and included more veggies and proteins in my diet.
In a few months, I saw the obese, 234-pounder getting trimmed to a 170-pounder. The lost love for life re-emerged.
Another five years went past. In the meantime, I had registered with leading transplant centres like Amritha Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS) in Kochi and Apollo Hospitals in Chennai.
I was advised to hang on to my own liver for as long as I could. But nothing was going to run long enough with a dying vital organ constantly whimpering from inside. By the March of 2016, my body began giving up.
Dr. Sudheendran, the surgeon with a Midas touch, said that finally it was time. My name shot up in the list of patients awaiting transplant, monitored by the Government. But a further wait for a cadaver liver could prove risky.
In a world where many people think thrice before even donating blood, it was hard to expect someone from outside coming forward to donate an organ and that too for a stranger.
But miracles do happen.
One March morning, as I was oscillating unsteadily between life and death on the hospital bed, a bearded man walked into the room along with my uncle. He was introduced to me as Alfred.
He had come all the way from Kannur to undergo a few tests to see if his organ matched.
This young man named Alfred used to be the car driver for one of my uncle’s friends. A highly religious man with a staunch faith in Christ, he wanted to do something noble in Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy.
A social worker who had donated blood 56 times, he used to grow long hair just to donate it for the making of wigs for cancer patients.
He underwent all necessary tests. Blood tests looked good, but there was a trace of moderate fatty liver.
He went back, started a diet, exercised on a regular basis – all for me. Within six weeks, his fatty liver turned normal. It seemed that he was happier than all of us.
A date was finally fixed: 14 June 2016, a Tuesday. By about this time, I was completely down, finding it hard even to walk.
I couldn’t breathe freely. There was great difficulty in getting up from bed. My sleep was highly disturbed and I had to rely on pills which proved ineffective.
Incidents of severe cramping all over my body began to occur frequently. Fluid restriction was imposed and in the peak of summer, I had to live with hardly any water to drink.
On the 11th of June, I was admitted to the hospital. Alfred joined on 13th evening.
On the 14th, when I was taken in, I expected a dimly lit room. Much to my surprise, the operation theatre was more like a carnival venue. It was a brightly lit room bustling with lots of nurses, doctors and I guess, also students studying in the medical college.
One of my uncles, Kunjunni Ammmavan who is a doctor himself and a very close friend of Dr. Sudheendran had earned special permission to be inside the OT while the procedure was on.
The last thing that I remember is his masked face, telling “I am here. Be cool”. Ah yes, then the chief anesthetist’s voice uttering “Sajith, I am giving you an injection now after which you will fall asleep”.
When I regained consciousness the next day, I was inside the IICU, recuperating slowly. The new liver inside me was adapting pretty quickly to the new surroundings.
I was shifted from the ICU a week later, much earlier than what was expected. Then another week after that, I was discharged with three months of isolation suggested.
Today, I can eat whatever I want to. I can walk around freely. I can sleep peacefully. A few more weeks and then, I can be back to work.
I am indebted for life to Alfred. If he hadn’t come forward to lend a helping hand, probably, I wouldn’t have been alive today.
TNM note: On 14 September 2016 Sajith Varma -who was a recipient of a liver transplant in June this year- wrotethis touching blog on how the kindness of a complete stranger gifted him another chance at life. An edited version of the same was reproduced here with his permission. You can read the original blog here.