Part one of three part series
Do you believe in miracles? Wanda Butts does. Her miracle started with a medical problem. The life-altering experience began more than 20 years ago. She was working as a special education aide at Forest Park Elementary School, that winter of 1979. It was near Christmas and Wanda loved the holidays. But that year she struggled to maintain her usual excitement because she didn't feel well.
The vague flu like symptoms of fatigue, muscle aches and joint pains were treated with antibiotics but they persisted. Then her gums started bleeding, she developed numerous mouth sores and her joints began swelling. She made it through the holidays for the sake of her husband, Bob, and their children, 10-year-old Tracy, and Mike, who was 12. Even with repeated trips to the doctor her mysterious illness continued through the long, cold winter months.
One day when Bob was driving her to the doctor's office, he observed a new symptom. Her skin was yellow. This time when the doctor saw her he immediately put her into the hospital in isolation. Diagnosis, Possible infectious Hepatitis.
Tests were run and she was started on prednisone. After several days it was determined that she had non-infectious hepatitis. She went home, then was allowed to return to work on medication.
But Wanda did not get better. In fact she felt worse. Finally, after months of no improvement, she was transferred to Dr. Lowe, a gastroenterologist, in Indianapolis. A liver biopsy showed she had Non infectious chronic active hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver.
"I was shocked," Wanda said. "I thought only heavy alcohol users developed cirrhosis and I never drank alcohol. I told the doctor, surely that's wrong." Much to her dismay, Doctor Lowe explained that there were other causes for cirrhosis and, indeed, that's what she had. She went home on higher doses of steroids. Wanda and Bob didn't think much about what the diagnosis could mean. They were too busy raising a family. Wanda took her medicine, prayed and returned to work.
Of course, her family had been very concerned about her through all those months. Bob and the kids pitched in to help however they could. They knew Wanda's constant fatigue sometimes prevented her from completing minimal chores at home after barely getting through the work day. Occasionally, her mother-in-law, Susie, stayed with them to help out. Her parents and four brothers helped, too, and they worried. They couldn't understand how this could happen to Wanda.
"Bob and I made frequent trips to the library," Wanda said. "We read everything we could find on hepatitis and cirrhosis. The articles about cirrhosis all said the same thing. Maximum life expectancy was 10 years."
Wanda was 39 years old. Her children were young. She did not want to die then or in 10 years. She wanted to see her children grown and she wanted to watch grandchildren grow.
It was important to Wanda to try to keep life as normal as possible, especially for her kids. She worked and went to all of her kids' games and school activities. She forced herself to keep going even though she was constantly fatigued and frequently in pain.
Except for the one time, Wanda never had jaundice. She had always been a quiet woman who seldom talked about herself. Because of that and the fact that she continued to work, most people didn't even realize she was sick.
But the disease kept progressing. The months turned into years. Wanda trudged along but the illness caused her repeated problems. Along with the constant fatigue and aching, sometimes her protein levels would elevate and she'd get confused. She was on a medical roller coaster with ups and downs physically and emotionally.
Wanda had repeated hospitalizations and more biopsies. She developed esophageal varicosities, varicose veins in her throat. They carried a real threat of rupture and the possibility she could bleed to death before medical help could be attained.
"One of the hardest things we had to do," Wanda continued, "was to discuss that danger with the kids. Mike and Tracy had to know what to do if I started bleeding while they were here alone with me."
Somehow everyone struggled through. They all tried to push that 10-year sentence out of their mind but the clock kept ticking. Seven years had passed since Wanda first got sick that Christmas season.
In late October of 1986, the Butts' had a new worry. Bob, who worked for IBM, had heard rumors that the Greencastle plant was going to shut down. Even though the managers had not verified that, it was a real concern.
Bob had to make a week-long business trip to Rochester, Minn. Dr. Lowe had talked with Wanda earlier and had suggested that she go to the Mayo's Clinic to see if she'd qualify for a liver transplant. She didn't even know that liver transplants were being done at that time. Heart transplants were all you read about in the papers. But she went to Rochester with Bob and while he worked she spent her days going to Mayos for testing.
At the end of the week, Bob came to the hospital where Wanda was waiting to get her test results and an answer about her future. Her kind, attentive and normally quiet husband lumbered over to her. He struggled with his words.
"Bob asked if the doctor had been there yet," Wanda recalled. "I said no. Then he said he had to tell me something. He said he got the word today and it was official. IBM in Greencastle was closing down."
Before she could really digest his words the doctor came in. Wanda and Bob looked up at him hopefully, silently praying that now they'd get some good news.
"He walked up to us," Wanda continued, "kind of like he was in a hurry. Without any hesitation, and he had no compassion in his voice, he just said that I wouldn't live long enough to have a transplant. Basically, he told me to go home to die."
Tuesday, a transplant leads to a medical emergency