Have you ever participated in the New York Liver Life Walk, the Stamford Liver Life Walk, or other events for people with liver diseases, or their families? If so you may have found yourself walking alongside Art Clark, an athletic guy in his early 70’s, who has been on an 8-year journey as a liver transplant patient/survivor. Art not only does the Liver Walks; he talks the talk; he tells his story at post- transplant support groups and at pre-transplant workshops, wherever it will help. It’s a dramatic story, told in a matter-of-fact way that says a lot about the ordinary heroism of patients and their families.
Art Clark’s journey into the world of liver transplants began in 2007 when he learned that he had inoperable liver cancer, and would need a liver transplant—as soon as possible. Art and his wife were told that Art would not live long enough to wait for a UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) liver. So without hesitation they chose to consider a liver available under expanded criteria. Fortunately Art was being treated at a hospital that was in the forefront of successful liver transplants, using organs that were rejected by other regions. And so, six months later, after meeting with the hospital’s liver team and receiving chemotherapy to control cancer growth, he was listed for a transplant.
On the waiting list
Being on the waiting list for a transplant means waiting for the call—big drama, no matter how you view it. For Art the calls came quickly—the first within the first two weeks, the second two weeks later. In both cases the liver turned out not to be suitable for transplantation, so twice Art and his wife were sent home. The third call came a few weeks later at 1:00 am. This time the process moved ahead, the IV was already inserted—and then: Art received a call from the surgeon informing him that there was an urgent need for a liver to save a seventeen-year-old who would die within hours without a transplant. In Art’s words: “I was told that the liver was mine and it was my decision to continue with transplant preparations or to instruct the surgeon to use it to help save the teenager. I relinquished the liver and at 6:00 am we left the hospital.”
After that, Art waited, now at the top of the list—“and there was no call, as there was a shortage of available livers.” And then, again at 1:00 am, came the fourth and final call. Art received the liver of a 74-year-old man from North Carolina. Everything went well, and he was released from the hospital after a short stay, in the loving care of his wife, who happens to be an RN.
Art is quick to tell you that his transplanted liver is 11 years older than he is– and has functioned perfectly.
A transplant is only the beginning . . .
Art’s liver transplant meant that life would continue: so there is more to his story. He returned to his job in corporate finance four months after the transplant, and then chose to retire to “enjoy life,” working out at the gym, volunteering at a non-profit organizations, and becoming a mentor to other patients facing liver transplants, through a hospital-based program. These are activities that he enjoys today, along with other joys and satisfactions.
But Art’s medical journey continued. About two years after the successful transplant, after a routine CT, he learned that the liver cancer had spread to his lung. He underwent lung surgery, and a regimen that included an experimental infusion and chemotherapy—resulting in grave side effects that resulted in hospitalization. Looking back on this experience he wrote: “The (chemo) drug had such a horrible effect on me that hopefully it had a greater effect on the cancer.” It may be that that is the case. Art now takes only one prescribed drug to prevent organ rejection. He reports that his last CT, MRI, and bone scan show that his tumors are stable and contained. “Stable is good,” Art says, and gives him good hope for the future.
Today Art is feeling good. You may see him at the next Liver Life Walk, with his children and grandchildren in tow. He is committed to making life better for liver transplant patients and their families, as they begin their own life journeys, with a new liver, and with new opportunities, and new challenges too.
If you want to talk to Art – and he is very willing to talk to you about his experience as a liver transplant patient – you will have to catch him in between the gym and his other activities. When we caught up with him recently, he was in his car on speaker-phone. He has a “Donate Life” appeal on his New Jersey license plate, and a bumper sticker that supports transplants for those who need them, to live and to survive. And he is on the road, moving forward.
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