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  • The Essence of Giving—A Transplant Story
  • Andy Heath

I think I’ve always believed in giving of myself to serve others. Looking back, I’m a little surprised that personality trait didn’t lead me to becoming a firefighter, police officer or even pursue a career in the military. Instead, I was a professional singer, a cruise director on luxury ships and had recently begun a new career as a financial advisor with a major brokerage firm before volunteering to become a liver donor.

Through a sales contest early in my new career, I won a two–year coaching program that gathered for three–day training weekends every quarter in New York City. Between weekends, we were matched with daily partners, adding to the continuity and accountability. Twenty–two strangers began and a close–knit group of friends graduated. Initially, I expected the purpose of the program was to help us grow our careers, but ultimately it became a vehicle to build and live a life of higher significance. One of my daily partners was Mike—a strong, thoughtful and caring man in his mid–thirties. Mike was married with three young children and already a successful financial advisor. We were a year into our coaching program before he told the group he was suffering from primary sclerosing cholangitis. At some point he would need a liver transplant. Meanwhile, his disease left him susceptible to contracting cancer.

I don’t recall how I first learned about living liver donation. It seemed almost miraculous—and a solution to Mike’s problem. Best of all, it was something I could do. Without discussing the subject with my wife first, I asked Mike to consider me as a possible donor. I was extremely healthy and fit. I never smoked and didn’t drink. I was sure I had the healthiest 39–year–old liver he could ever find. And if donating part of my liver could give my friend a chance for his kids to get to know their father—this father—well, that was worthwhile. A transplant was Mike’s opportunity for a second chance at life. And it was my opportunity to live without regret. It was impossible to not try. My offer was sincere, but was immediately dismissed as Mike confided that several family members were waiting in line as potential donors.

Months later, after no family members were found to be compatible, I received a phone call from Mike asking if I was still serious about my offer. This time, I went immediately to my wife and told her what I wanted to try. She never hesitated and never wavered in her support. Much later, Tammy told me that the look in my eyes and the conviction in my voice was enough to convince her of my resolve and that she would support me. I selfishly never asked or fully understood her concern and worry for me. I think we both looked at this opportunity as a higher calling in my life. This was one of those moments that allows you to make a real difference. But, the recipient was also someone Tammy had never met. We lived in Kansas City and Mike’s family lived in Pennsylvania. It was clearly time for introductions. Tammy joined me as we traveled to Pennsylvania for donor compatibility testing.

Mike’s insurance covered the testing for two potential donors and that limit had already been reached by family members. To go forward with my testing required a $25,000 deposit to be paid to the hospital which would be reimbursed by the insurance company if we went through with the surgery. When word of our plans spread to our coaching [End Page 14] group, they quickly rallied and sent $25,000 to Mike within a matter of days. Incredible.

Following four days of extensive tests and psychological interviews, I was pronounced to be a perfect, textbook candidate. To this day I don’t know why, but I did very little research of the surgical procedure and the risks involved. Looking back, I believe I had confidently decided I was meant to do this. I felt I could see my life decisions...


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pp. 14-17
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