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Bad news before a break in the clouds

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Part two of three part series.

After seven long years of fighting hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver, Wanda Butts was told by a doctor at the Mayo Clinic in 1986, that she wouldn't live long enough to get a liver transplant. Her husband, Bob, learned the same day that his company, IBM, in Greencastle, was closing.

Bob was given an opportunity to stay with IBM by moving to New York. The Buttses really did not want to leave Brazil and their families but felt they had no choice. With Wanda's medical condition, they could not afford to lose the company's health insurance package.

They'd decided to go to New York when they, finally, received some good news. Much to their surprise, IBM made a decision that would probably be unheard of today. They reassigned Bob to the Indianapolis office so he could keep his job and insurance, the Butts' could remain close to family and Wanda would be near her established doctors.

They moved to Indianapolis in January, 1987. Their son, Mike, had graduated and gotten married the year before. Daughter Tracy was in her last year of high school. She opted to stay with Wanda's parents to finish her senior year.

It wasn't what they preferred but Wanda and Bob realized it was workable and they were grateful. They had been in Indianapolis just a few weeks when they got some more bad news. Susie, Bob's kind, gentle, loving mother, had been diagnosed with cancer. She died six weeks later. That took the heart out of both of them. They just wanted to go home.

Wanda's dad had retired and didn't want the upkeep on his house and property so Bob and Wanda bought her parent's home near Mansfield, Ind. Bob commuted to work. Tracy graduated and married. Both children gave them a grandchild in 1988.

Wanda took her steroids and continued on with life the best she could. Fatigue was her constant companion. She had good days and bad but she managed, seeming a little revitalized by the grandbabies. She even started taking a psychology class at Indiana State University.

Then, near Thanksgiving, 1989, Wanda ran out of time. Her condition was near critical. Dr. Lowe said he'd done all he could do and sent her to the IU Med Center to be evaluated for a liver transplant. The books were right. It had been 10 years.

IU Med Center ran a complete battery of tests on Wanda. They explained the qualifying factors for a transplant and what to expect if the procedure were done. Then she and Bob went home to wait for an answer. Wanda's Christmas present that year was a call from IU Med Center telling her she qualified and was on the waiting list for a new liver.

March of 1990 started out to be a great month. Wanda felt pretty good. She and Bob took a weekend trip to Tennessee with Mike and his family. They spent much of the next weekend with Tracy and her family, who just lived next door. It was a beautiful day. Tracy was entertaining her little girl by flying a kite. And she'd invited her parents over that evening for spaghetti.

After dinner, Wanda suddenly felt terrible and got very nauseated. She started vomiting large amounts of red liquid. Bob called her parents, who lived up on the hill nearby, and told them he was taking her to the hospital. Wanda said, "I'm going to feel really stupid if this is just spaghetti."

It wasn't. By the time they arrived at the local hospital, Wanda had lost so much blood she was barely conscious. IVs were started and new blood pumped into her until she and stabilized. Then Wanda was transferred to the IU Med Center. They continued giving her blood and cauterized her ruptured esophageal varicosities.

She responded to the treatment and after several days went home. But Wanda had to return weekly to have her throat checked to ensure no veins were leaking blood. During the third visit her doctor told her they had found a donor liver. She remained at the hospital and the next morning received a new liver.

Wanda was in surgery more than 16 hours. It did not go well. Her counts were bad and her temperature was dangerously high. Something was wrong with the new liver. It couldn't pump bile. The doctors didn't know if she would survive or not. Then Wanda went into a coma.



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