"A Second Chance at Living"
by: Aaron T. Okubo
Life….you take it for granted sometime until something devastating happens, and you’re face to face with your own mortality.
That is what I was faced with in the late Spring of 2006..
I started feeling fatigued, had a loss of appetite and at times it was difficult to go to work. Some days I felt as normal as can be and then others felt fatigued and had to miss work. I slowly started to accumulate water in my body and lungs. Dr. Yoshio Oda, my primary physician, put me on medication to drain the water in my body but that did not help. I was referred to Dr. Neal Shimoda, a Gastroenterology specialist.
I was sent to the hospital for 4 nights for testing and to drain the water from my lungs. It felt really good and it was easy to breathe again.
Unfortunately, water started to accumulate in my lungs again so I was referred to transplant surgeon, Dr. Linda Wong, for an examination in the middle of May because my liver was not working properly.
After several tests, I was told by Dr. Wong that my liver function was working at about 40% and I would eventually need to get a liver transplant. She did not want to wait until I got worse so she started the process of getting me on the transplant list.
The process included going through a series of tests with different doctors before being approved to be on the transplant list.
During this time my two (2) sons, Shane, completed his freshman year in high school and Austin, completed 6th grade. The both played Aiea Little League baseball. I really enjoyed watching both of them play and having this ailment became a struggle for me to watch them play. As weeks went by my condition worsened. During my last medical examination on June 22, 2006, with a psychologist, I couldn’t answer any of his questions because the toxins were in my blood stream and had affected my brain due to my liver failure. The doctor told my wife, Shelley, to rush me to the St. Francis Hospital Emergency.
I was admitted into the hospital and was informed that my liver was failing. I was breathing with the help of oxygen since my lungs were still accumulating water. During my stay in the hospital I recall having to get my lungs drained three times.
About a couple weeks into my stay at St. Francis Hospital, Dr. Wong informed my family that a donor had been found and I was prepped for surgery. My family and I were extremely happy and relieved because a liver was found so soon. However, right before I was to be wheeled to surgery, Dr. Wong informed us it wasn’t a good match. The surgery was cancelled and we would have to wait. Needless to say my family and I were devastated. However, my wife had a strong faith in the Lord and felt that there was something else that the Lord would provide me with. Luckily I had great support from my family: my wife - Shelley, 2 sons - Shane and Austin, 2 brothers – Lloyd and Arnold and their families, my mother& sister from Hilo, and my in-laws.
Shane and Austin were selected for being on their respective All-Star baseball teams and our good friends and co-baseball parents kept updating me with their progress and their games.
At about the fourth week after being admitted into the hospital my condition worsened and I was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit. There I was put on 24-hour kidney dialysis as my kidneys were starting to fail and a tube was placed into my mouth to breathe. It didn’t look good! At this time I asked Shane to please help mom and Austin as much as he could. I told Austin to study hard in school, and I asked my brothers, sister and mother to help my family as much as possible.
On July 29, 2006, at 5:00 a.m., my wife jumped up when the phone rang with good news that a donor for both a liver and kidney had been found and it looked like a match. She called the family and everyone came to the hospital. I was prepped for surgery and after a prayer was wheeled into surgery. Ten and a half hours later I was wheeled out of surgery with a new liver and kidney.
I spent an extended 2 weeks in the hospital learning to walk again since I was bedridden in the hospital for about 6 weeks. My wife took off from work for a couple months to help me recuperate at home, and she assisted me with physical therapy to help me walk again. One of the doctors mentioned that it was a good thing that I had the transplant when I did because my condition was worsening and I had approximately 8 - 10 days left to live.
Since the transplant my life has changed so much. My faith in the Lord has strengthened and in 2007 Shane, Austin, and I were baptized. I believe in miracles, and I certainly was granted another chance of living by our Lord Jesus Christ. I am active as a volunteer in my church, Kaimuki Christian Church, and try to give back to the community and to Him. I’m also active as a volunteer for the Legacy of Life which promotes organ and tissue awareness/donation.
My hope is to one day meet my donor family so I can personally thank them for their donation of life and to relay my appreciation to them.
Life….we live it one day at a time and what a blessing it has been to have a second chance at living!!!
Mahalo to all of the doctors and the ever so important transplant team who assisted us through it all.