Walker making steady progress after liver transplant

Walker making steady progress after liver transplant

Jack Walker woke up Thanksgiving morning in the intensive care unit as his wife, Andrea, walked in.

"I love you," he said.

That was at 9:30 a.m. at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, where Walker was in good condition after getting a new liver Wednesday night.

The longtime Jackson County commissioner and Phoenix resident, 68, was called to Portland late Tuesday night when a donor was found for an organ to replace Walker's failing liver.

"It's a wonderful Thanksgiving present," Andrea Walker said.

She said by early Thursday afternoon Walker was fully conscious, talking and frequently pressing the self-dosing button for pain relief.

Preparations for surgery began about 4 p.m. Wednesday, and that doctors said they would have no more information until the new organ was actually in place. A little after 8 p.m., it was. Surgeons had more hours of work ahead of them, however, and the operation wasn't complete until around midnight.

"It went spectacular," said Chris Walker, Jack's niece and the Jackson County clerk.

Doctors told the family the procedure went a bit more slowly than it may have because Walker had scar tissue from previous operations for Crohn's disease, but they also said things on the whole went better than expected.

Crohn's disease causes a wasting of the intestines. Walker also suffers from diabetes.

By early Thursday afternoon, Andrea said, doctors had taken out Walker's breathing tube and were starting to remove other tubes.

"They said the new liver looks great," Andrea said. "It's a miracle."

The call with news of a donor came after the Walkers had celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary with an early Thanksgiving dinner of one of Jack's favorites, a spiral ham.

The nation faces a shortage of livers from deceased donors. About 16,000 Americans are awaiting livers. About 6,500 liver transplants were performed last year, according to the American Liver Foundation, but about 1,600 people died last year while waiting for a donor.

Chris Walker said that while the family is happy and excited, they are mindful of another family's loss.

"We know there's a family that's in mourning," she says. "We have no idea who they are. But their family gave Jack life."

According to an OHSU manual, liver transplant patients remain in the hospital an average of 14 days. Possible complications include the risk of infection and the chance that the body will reject the donor organ. Patients must take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives.

Hospital officials said that Walker may not be able to leave the Portland area for a couple of months after being released from the hospital. Andrea said he'll see doctors three times a week. She said the couple will park their motor home near the hospital. She doesn't know if they will go back and forth.

"He could teleconference," she said.

According to the ALA, side effects of anti-rejection drugs may include fluid retention, raised blood pressure, headaches, diarrhea and nausea. Most patients can return to a normal or near-normal lifestyle six months to a year after a successful liver transplant. The five-year survival rate for liver transplant patients is about 75 percent.

Andrea says she thinks Jack may become an activist for organ donation.

"We'll just play it day by day," she said. "Jack's a very lucky guy."

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