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July 2021 by Lezlee Peterzell-Bellanich

After battling a rare autoimmune disorder called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) for eighteen years which led to cirrhosis, my husband, Capt. Rob, finally received his life-saving liver transplant on September 10, 2020, at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL. Ten months later, he looks and feels like a healthy man with a new engine inside of him.

Before transplant, his eyes and skin were yellow from jaundice. He had lost so much muscle mass because his liver could not process food properly, which left him emaciated and severely fatigued. Immediately after his old liver was replaced by a healthy one, the whites of his eyes and the color of his skin came back. And he could see color and beauty in the world again.

But who and where did his new liver come from?

The vast majority of transplanted organs come from deceased donors, and those on the national organ transplant wait list are hoping for the right organ match at the right time. Because the U.S. has an “opt-in” system, meaning you must indicate whether you want to be an organ donor, you can check off first-person consent your driver’s license or can easily register with the nation’s organ donor registry. Otherwise, the family must give consent at the critical time.


In my book, Tommy Mulligan, one of the organ procurement coordinators at Mayo Clinic, explains, “If you die at home or at the scene of an accident and your heart stops, that’s it. You could still be a tissue donor, but not an organ donor, because you must have blood flow and oxygen to the organs for them to remain viable. This is why the person must die in a hospital and be on a ventilator to keep the organs alive with enough time for proper testing so that organ offers can be made, accepted, and then transplant centers can procure the organs.”


The book recounts how and why, due to the shortage of organs compared to those in need, Rob chose to temporarily relocate from our home in Nyack, NY to a town near Jacksonville so that he could be listed with the Mayo Clinic. I was flying back and forth with our children until the pandemic hit in 2020, which led to us all staying in Florida as a family until Rob’s surgery.


While in Florida, Rob and I—as his life partner and caregiver—attended Mayo Clinic’s weekly Second Chance support group for liver and kidney transplant patients, and we still attend these meetings virtually. [EC1] 


After listening to so many incredible stories, a light bulb went off. Not only did I want to tell our story, but include some of these amazing survival stories from these newfound friends as well.


Except for one patient, John, whose niece donated one of her kidneys to him, all of the transplant recipients in the group had one thing in common.


For each of them, their life was extended by someone they did not know— someone who had been declared brain dead, unable to breathe on their own without machines keeping their organs alive. That someone, who gave them the gift of life, was a stranger.  That stranger’s decision or the decision of their family saved the recipient’s life. The title of my book is:
Saved by a Stranger: Life-Changing Journeys of Transplant Patients


Estimated Release Date:
Fall 2021--(Capt. Rob’s Liver-versary is September 10)

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