In Your Area
Michele De Motto
American Liver Foundation
39 Broadway, Suite 2700
New York, NY 10006
For months, Tom Krumenacker would step outside his Scripps Ranch home, walk halfway down the block, stop and wonder, "What am I doing here? I'm outside and I'm in the neighborhood, right? But what am I doing here?"
Said Dr. Christopher Marsh, a transplant surgeon at Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla: "He probably could have walked in the middle of the street and been run over. He was just totally confused."
Suffering from congenital liver failure, Krumenacker, 35, was living much of his life in a nightmarish daze.
Scarring in Krumenacker's liver caused blockage, forcing veins throughout his abdomen to expand. One of the liver's primary functions is to cleanse blood flowing from the intestines.
His blood flow blocked, Krumenacker's unfiltered blood, carrying toxins, flowed to his brain, causing the mental confusion.
In May of that year, Krumenacker underwent a liver transplant. The man who not too long ago was often disoriented and too weak to lift his 1-year-old baby girl was able to run the America's Finest City Half Marathon.
"Don't get me wrong," said Krumenacker, who will probably average 10-minute miles. "I'm not going to break any records. I just want to finish. The idea of simply getting the first few steps of my life back is so important to me."
Krumenacker's liver problems were first discovered when he was 10 and living on Long Island in New York. Diagnosed with tonsillitis, he wound up being hospitalized from Halloween to Christmas when doctors discovered he had alarmingly high blood pressure.
Turns out he had congenital scarring of the liver.
"He was just born with it," said Dr. Randy Schaffer, another transplant surgeon at Scripps Green Hospital and one of Krumenacker's doctors.
For 13 years, the scarring was treated with medication.
His senior year in college, Krumenacker suffered internal bleeding for the first time.
"I remember being tired, having flulike symptoms, and being thirsty like no tomorrow," he said. "I got up to go to the bathroom and passed out. I thought I was just lightheaded."
Fraternity brothers insisted he go to the hospital. Because internal bleeding is sometimes fatal, Krumenacker's roommates might have saved his life.
Doctors performed an endoscopic procedure in which a small camera is passed down the esophagus. Bleeding veins or veins in danger of bleeding were tied with rubber bands.
For the next 11 years, Krumenacker underwent similar procedures every six months.
But last fall Krumenacker began bleeding internally more regularly and suffering frequent bouts of short-term memory loss.
He'd walk into the den to pay the bills, have no idea why he was there, then repeat the scene four and five times. After Christmas, he was leafing through holiday pictures, spotted one of his mother in front of their tree and couldn't remember her visit. Reading was a waste of time.
"I couldn't comprehend anything," he said.
A financial planner, he was forced to go on disability. He suffered a minor fender-bender with his daughter, Samantha, in the car. Doctors told him to stop driving.
He could no longer be left alone with Samantha. Fatigued, he couldn't toss his daughter in the air and play. "If I did have a chance to sit on the couch and hold her while watching TV, I didn't remember it 20 minutes later," he said.
When Krumenacker went to the mall with his family, they taped his name, address and phone number on his shirt in case he got lost.
"It was absolutely horrific," Krumenacker said. "I'm a father. I'm a provider. I'm supposed to be in control of the world around me. I lost all of it."
Krumenacker had been on a waiting list to receive a cadaveric liver for 10 years. But because others were more ill, he was bypassed.
The next possibility: a living donor. Krumenacker's sister-in-law, Heather Colombo, proved to be a match.
On May 4 of this year, doctors transplanted 60 percent of Colombo's liver into Krumenacker. The day after the surgery, Krumenacker looked at two intensive-care nurses named Mary and Wheezy and laughed.
"What's so funny?" they asked.
"I can remember your name," he said. "I know who you are."
Krumenacker loves lifting weights and snowboarding. He once weighed a ripped 190 pounds. Eight days after the surgery, weak and fatigued, he returned home weighing 156.
He started off walking at first. Then jogging around the block. His once-a-week long run has stretched to 11 miles.
He can't say thank you often enough to Colombo and the staff at Scripps Green Hospital. About Colombo, who has made a full recovery, he says, "She's my guardian angel."
He's driving again and hopes to return to work next month. He plays with Samantha again, tossing her in the air and catching her.
Sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by his daughter's toys, he says, "I've taken her to the zoo a dozen times. I can remember taking her to the gym on Saturday. There's no forgetfulness. It's like somebody hit the reset button."