LIVEr Champion

Meet our 2020 Cincinnati LIVEr Champion, Donald Melillo

In February 2012, Don heard the three words that nobody ever wants to hear… “You have cancer.” He was diagnosed with liver cancer and was told that the only treatment option was a liver transplant. He went through every range of emotion, sadness, anger, and confusion. As the days passed, Don became sicker and spent his time extremely disoriented as he waited for the phone call that would save his life.

On October 12, 2012, Don received that life-saving call; there was a liver waiting for him. This was crucial because they didn’t think he would make it much longer. It was a relief to receive this phone call, yet also terrifying. After many hours, his doctor told his family that the surgery was complete. He stated that Don was in ICU and it was going to be a long road to recovery.

Don’s recovery was not easy. Most patients spend five days at the hospital, and he spent 18. There were many complications that preceded his liver transplant. During this time, Don was brought back into surgery for excessive bleeding and he also had an allergic reaction to the anti-rejection medicine. On two different occasions, he was placed back in SICU and placed on a ventilator. Don had never been more thankful than when he was finally released to go home.

Life often takes us down different paths. This was definitely one he never would have thought he would travel. Each and every day, Don thanks his organ donor. He spends his time now giving back by educating others on the importance of organ donation and attending support group meetings for those waiting for their transplant. More importantly, he feels beyond blessed that someone chose this selfless act and has given him a new purpose in life. Don can now spend his days with his wife, daughters and their husbands, as well as with his five grandchildren. He also tries to give back in many ways to spread the word about liver disease and where to look for help. His hope is that the wait list for transplant will become shorter, and that his story will help others save the lives of strangers through organ donation. Don is honored to be the LIVEr Champion and reach out to get support for ALF and finding the cures for liver disease.

Meet our 2020 National LIVEr Champion, Philip Kennelly

Philip was born in July 2013, and he was seemingly healthy at first. He had some jaundice in his eyes, but we were assured this was normal and it would soon fade away. Finally, at six weeks old, I insisted that this was not going away, and they finally retested his bilirubin. We received a call later that day telling us to go to the emergency room. After many tests, and a biopsy, it was determined that Philip had Biliary Atresia. At eight weeks old, he underwent a procedure called a Kasai, which serves as kind of a “temporary fix” that allows bile to drain from the liver.

Philip spent the next two years in and out of the hospital. He couldn’t sleep at night and would scratch himself so much that he would have open sores all over his body. He also developed portal hypertension, which caused him to have esophageal varices and GI bleeds. In February 2016, Philip had a GI bleed, only a week after an endoscopy showed he did not have any varices that looked concerning. It was determined that with the unpredictability of his bleed and the itching getting even worse, he should be listed for a transplant. But according to his blood work, his PELD score was not high enough to get him transplanted any time soon.  His team suggested looking into living donation, so we discussed it as a family and we decided that Philip’s dad, Dan would get tested first. And he was a match!

On May 10, 2016, they were wheeled into the operating room and our lives were forever changed. Both are doing great since the surgery. Dan sometimes forgets he even had surgery. Philip has had a couple of bumps along the way, but the transplant has allowed him to start kindergarten this past year and keep up with his peers. He is a typical six-year-old boy who loves cars and playing with his brother. You would never know all that he has been through if we didn’t tell you.

– Kim Kennelly, Mother of Philip

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