Transplant Surgery Letters of Hope: Episode 7

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In 2018, 8,250 liver transplants were performed in the U.S., and Valen Keefer received one of those transplants.

In the previous episode, Valen walked us through her experience with the transplant waitlist and what it felt like to finally receive the call for her liver transplant. In this episode of Letters of Hope, we follow Valen’s journey through her liver transplant surgery, from opening her eyes, to her first steps on the road to recovery. She recalls how she had to work so hard to stay healthy for the surgery and afterwards followed her regimen to stay healthy and recover quickly.

"It’s important for us to trust our healthcare team, trust the process. To know when we have to work really hard and to know when we just have to let go and put it into the hands of our surgeons, doctors and nurses."

Valen Keefer | Kidney & Liver Transplant Recipient

Did you know? Every nine minutes another person is added to the transplant waiting list, but just one donor has the power to help more than 75 people. To learn more about becoming an organ donor visit: https://www.organdonor.gov/sign-up

This docuseries is hosted by our patient advocate, Valen Keefer, the series describes the ups and downs, the challenges, and the hope, that someone might experience before, during, and after receiving a transplant. For those considering donation, you can access several interviews with living donors who talk about the process and the positive impact it’s had on their lives.

Read Transcript

VALEN:

Receiving the call is a rush like no other. You've worked so hard. The anticipation. You're waiting and to actually get that call! We got it at 1 a.m. I answered the phone and my transplant coordinator said, “We found the perfect liver for you.” We checked in and sat down and that's where it all began.

NOAH:

You kind of go through another mini pre-transplant evaluation, making sure that you are strong enough to survive the coming surgery. After a couple of hours, somebody comes in and says, “Okay, the organs here. We're going to move you down to pre-op.” We go down there. A whole other flurry of activity happens. Nurses in and out, poking, prodding, getting IV lines in.

VALEN:

And literally a thumbs up, thumbs down from my surgeon could change our future. All of a sudden, the nurse came around, gave the thumbs up, and it was go time. And I remember her wheeling me off and going to turn the corner and I hear her say...

NOAH:

You got it.

VALEN:

I hear her say, “Do you want to say bye to your husband one more time?” And those moments are really hard because then you do wonder if it's the one more time or the last time. So, I remember he

came running down the hallway. I really just let go and trusted and just hoped that I would wake up on the other side. I always had this feeling that if I could just wake up after surgery and see Noah, that everything would be okay. I remember I was in the operating room and it's quiet and all I'm doing is watching everybody intently doing their job and I'm thinking, “Okay, this is happening.” So, I said out loud, “Everybody's feeling positive today, right?” And everybody kind of smiles. And then a nurse came over to me and she looked at me directly in my eyes and said, “We all love what we do and we all love being here.” So my first memory after transplant is waking up and all of a sudden the first thing I see are silhouettes of my dad and Noah walking in the hallway to enter the room. And I thought, “No way. I did it.”

NOAH:

The double doors swing open. There she is. Awake. Not intubated. Looks fantastic for just going through one of the biggest surgeries your body can endure. And there she is looking around the room and she sees her dad and I.

VALEN:

I had a tube down my nose that made me not be able to talk so I tried as hard as I could and wanted to communicate. So, I was writing stuff and I drew three stick people to represent Noah, me, and Dad and I put, “This is all I had wished for.” I've been through a lot of operations to know that when they sit you up, which they try and get you to move and walk as soon as possible, that's your start to recovery. Just those first steps which are so hard and painful. And it didn't take long until I had to sit down again. That's the moment of recovery and moving forward, when you see that you've woken up, you're well enough to move again, and that was really exciting. That was healing. The first time I saw my scar after liver transplant — that took my breath away. My body really transformed because I was super swollen that I looked pregnant. I was like, “This is my new liver, baby.” So, you just have to roll with things and realize that you're going to have transformations of yourself, physically and mentally after the surgery and just knowing that time will heal. It's your critical healing and recovery when you're in the hospital. And then once you get released, you go back to clinic twice a week, you get labs twice a week.

NOAH:

You take vitals every hour. You're taking meds. You’re recording weights, temperatures, blood pressure. Caring for the incision. I mean, that was our big thing because nothing can derail a successful recovery like an infection. The big thing for us was, again, trying to control these pieces that we could try to control, to feel empowered in in her health and in her recovery. It's amazing because life just continues to go on.

VALEN:

We work so hard throughout this transplant journey to stay well. Get us to the next step closer to transplant. It's important for us to be able to trust our health care team and trust the process and know when we have to work really hard and then know when we have to just let go and put it in the hands of our surgeons and doctors and nurses.

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Speaker:
Valen Keefer
Multi-organ Transplant Recipient
Patient Advocate
Thermo Fisher Scientific

Recorded:
July 11, 2022

Series: Letters of Hope (video series)