Anna Sharpe went to the Emergency Room stricken with stomach pain last year on the Wednesday before Easter. On the way, she told her daughter Sarah, who’s interested in health care, that she might get to see her mother have her gall bladder taken out. A few hours later things the news was much worse.
“I have stage four cancer,” she remembers telling her then, sixteen-year-old daughter.
That abdominal pain was only relieved by three straight days of chemotherapy. They wanted to give her a sedative, but she refused it. Anna is a nurse and she preferred to face her situation head-on rather than stress her diseased liver any further.
“I was told it was inoperative and palliative,” she recalled. “My liver was filled with cancer and there were too many tumors to count. There were tumors on top of each other.”
Cancer had invaded every section of her liver and none of it was worth salvaging.
“Find me a bed somewhere I want to stay,” she told the doctors as she immediately began fighting the illness head-on.
In my interview, Anna displayed a sense of humor and matter-of-fact optimism as she described to me the past 17 months of setbacks, seizures, transfusions, GI bleeds, 105 degree fevers and round-after-round of chemotherapy. As a nurse, she’s had a clear grasp of what lies ahead; as a mother of three it’s much more complicated.
While all this was going on, Sarah, the youngest, graduated with a 96 GPA from New York Mills High School and is readying herself for Utica College in the fall.
“She’s a really tough kid,” Anna observed.
She’s had to be, but she has help from the school. Sarah would join some of her friends each day and eat lunch in the classroom of their 12th grade English teacher, Aileen Viel.
“They wouldn’t necessarily be talking about me,” Anna said. “But Ms. Viel was there for her.”
Sarah’s coaches, John Nicotera, Michael Keating and Andrea Dziekan looked out for her as well.
“They’d leave [restaurant] gift cards in her Jeep Wrangler, just to make sure she was eating. The coaches were phenomenal.”
Anna describes New York Mills as a “nice little community” that’s a “little bit country without being in the country.”
“I always knew Sarah would be taken care of,” she said.
Now it looks like Anna will be taken care of as well. Thanks to a new procedure at the Mayo Clinic called a “living donor liver transplant,” she has a remarkable 60-70 percent chance of full recovery. But this is her only chance.
In stories like this the obstacle is usually a lack of willing medically suitable donors. No one in Anna’s family was an acceptable match. However, she is fortunate because a remarkable woman named Lisa Grenier has stepped up and offered her the gift of life.
Lisa worked for years with Anna’s son Bobby when he was a student at Oneida County BOCES and when a message popped up on social media asking for help, she knew what she had to do.
“As soon as I saw the Facebook post about it, I was like, ‘oh my God, what do I do next?’” Lisa said. “I felt like this was just too important to just wait around, so I called the next day.”
“She’s doing this for truly altruistic reasons, she just wants to help out,” Anna marveled.
The concern now is for Lisa and making sure that this procedure doesn’t become a financial burden on her or her family. To ensure that, Anna’s friend, Kate Despins, has set up a GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/mckjh-living-liver-donation. The funds raised will pay for Lisa’s travel expenses, missed wages, and any additional costs.
“Anna wants nothing for herself,” Kate pointed out. “The GoFundMe isn’t for her, it’s all for the donor. She wants to be sure that her donor doesn’t have any expenses.”
On the fund-raising page, Kate describes Lisa as “truly a living angel.”
Lisa is incredibly humble about what she is about to do for Anna.
“I just feel like it’s something I can do,” she said. “I just really want to help someone. I have O negative blood. Here is a way that I can help someone. I’ve seen many people suffer from cancer.”
The GoFundMe describes how the organ can regenerate itself and what procedure will mean for Anna.
“A healthy individual is able to donate a section of their liver. This piece will actually grow inside of the recipient and should provide normal liver function. The remaining piece will also regenerate inside the donor within a short period of time and actually grow back to its original size,” according to the announcement.
In order to be a candidate for this surgery, a person’s cancer must be strictly limited to the liver itself. Thanks to surgeries performed at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Utica, that has been accomplished. All she needs now is the chance to grow a new healthy liver from the portion Lisa has offered to donate.
“One of the things I want to do is raise awareness (about the living donor program),” Lisa told me.
According to the MayoClinic.org website, “the popularity of living-organ donations has increased dramatically in recent years.” OrganDonor.gov adds, “There are nearly 6,000 donations each year. That’s 4 out of every 10.”
“I am just staying positive that everything is going to go through and that this will help others,” Lisa said.
“They always have the best attitude,” Kate said of her friend and her potential life-saving organ donor.
“It scares me, but I’m real excited,” Anna said. “I’ve gone from a death sentence to the odds in favor of a cure.”
Ron Klopfanstein welcomes your questions, comments, and story ideas. Like him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/BeMoreWestmo.