Faces of Liver Disease
Sharing your experience can provide hope and comfort to others in the liver community.
Forty years ago, Michael and Susan Kerr were brought together by a pair of tickets to the re-opening of Madison Square Garden. A friend gave the tickets to Michael on the condition that he escort the daughter of a client who was visiting New York from El Paso, Texas.
“I fell in love with Susie at first sight,” says Michael whose sentiments were fully reciprocated.
“I fell in love with Michael immediately,” Susan admits.
Two months later, the couple was engaged. They were married the following year.
After twenty years of marriage, raising two sons, and achieving substantial success in the real-estate and software industries, Michael was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 1988. Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease very similar to Crohn’s disease. Doctors were able to keep his symptoms under control for many years with medication and surgical procedures.
Four years ago, however, a routine blood test turned up a new complication of the colitis: primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC).
“My liver was in trouble,” recounts Michael, “I learned that the ducts from the liver that deliver bile — a digestive fluid — to the intestines had become damaged. There was a good possibility my liver would eventually fail, and I would need a transplant.” So, Michael’s doctor put him on the national organ transplant waiting list.
Then, in September 2008, Michael had a gall bladder attack. Though his doctors managed to get it under control, Michael was told that another attack would seriously jeopardize his life given his quickly deteriorating liver. Friends and family could not miss the telltale yellowing of his skin and eyes from jaundice. He was incredibly tired and itchy—a common symptom that accompanies a failing liver. He was moved up the transplant list, but Susie wanted to consider another alternative: a live liver transplant.
The liver is the only organ that can regenerate itself. If a donor gives a part of his or her liver to someone in need of a transplant, the organ will grow back to full size in both of the patients. Susie underwent a series of tests and it turned out that, once again, she was Michael’s perfect match.
On January 20th, Inauguration Day, Michael and Susan went into surgery. The procedures were a success and both of them went home in about half of the expected recovery time. In a few months, Michael was back to his regular working routine—even playing golf. Susan’s full recovery was even faster and she has been continuing her work as a professional psychic—writing books, teaching seminars, holding private sessions and making television and radio appearances.
In the course of the journey, Michael spoke with many people to educate himself on liver disease. One of them was Dr. Jim Boyer, the director of Yale’s Liver Center and, at that time, Board Chair of the American Liver Foundation (ALF). This was the beginning of a new relationship.
In Michael’s words:
“The more I learned about ALF, the more I was impressed by the work these people do. And when I was asked to join the Board, I was happy to do so.
What I appreciate about ALF is that they come at liver disease from many directions. Their various educational programs, for instance, are top-notch. And with so many Americans thinking — wrongly! — that liver disease is mainly the result of drinking and taking drugs, the information couldn’t be more timely.
Second, ALF is truly a national movement that reaches people who need advice, information and support. ALF’s 16 Divisions all over the country are doing incredible work — from organizing support groups … to bringing hepatitis C education to health clinics and community service agencies … to sponsoring fundraising events that raise awareness and crucial research funds.
With more than $1 million in grants last year alone, no other non-governmental organization invests more in liver research than ALF. The Foundation also funds fellowship programs for young physicians, providing them with more intensive training on diagnosing and treating patients with liver disease. As a liver patient, I certainly know how important this is!
I am proud and honored to be and ALF supporter. For me this is a long-term commitment. As far as I am concerned, this organization is life-saving.”
--Michael Kerr, 2009