In January 2011, Andy Rose began a fitness journey that would change his life. Little did he know that it would ultimately change the lives of others as well.
When Andy stepped into the gym for the first time in years, he weighed 250 pounds, he had type II diabetes, category 3 high blood pressure, and had been diagnosed with fatty liver syndrome. His doctor told him that his situation was serious. Unless he made some big changes, he was heading down a path that could eventually lead to cirrhosis, and possibly the need for a liver transplant.
Christer Hiort seemed to be in good health when he was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis. This rare disease strikes without reason and has no cure. Although the disease typically progresses slowly, it eventually leads to liver failure and ultimately death. At this time, a liver transplant is the only known cure.
Inspired by a good friend running with Team in Training, an organization that raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through fitness challenges, Andy decided to add running to his exercise regimen. His first time out, he could barely run two miles. But Andy kept putting on his running shoes. Only 140 days later, in December 2011, he ran the Dallas White Rock Marathon.
Not even a full year had passed since Andy first walked into the gym. Now, he could run over 26 miles, he was 50 pounds lighter, his cholesterol was normal, his blood pressure was normal, his blood sugar was normal, and he no longer had fatty liver syndrome. Through diet and exercise—especially running—he had turned his health completely around.
Meanwhile, Christer’s health was deteriorating. By the Fall of 2014, his liver disease had progressed to the point of urgency. His eyes were yellowing, he had lost significant weight. His liver was dying, and without a transplant, so would he.
Individuals with PSC are at a disadvantage when it comes to the National Transplant List. Once they are sick enough to make the list, the wait times are typically so long that the disease progression often outpaces the wait. By the time a viable match is found, they are often too sick to survive the transplant.
Christer had already been on the organ donor waiting list for 7 months and was realistically looking at another 3 years’ wait. His condition was becoming urgent. Asked to make a comment on proposed legislation that could make his wait even longer, Christer’s story was featured in the Dallas Morning News in October of 2014.
That is where it was read by his young daughter’s teacher, who just happened to be Andy Rose’s running partner. She mentioned it to Andy during one of their runs, because she recognized that he and Christer both worked for the same company.
Not only did Christer and Andy work for the same company, they worked on the same projects, and often worked on the same team. Ericsson being such a large company, they very rarely saw one another in person but talked on the phone about projects regularly. Up until this point, however, Andy was completely unaware of Christer’s illness.
The very next week, while on an update call about an ongoing project, Andy mentioned the Dallas Morning News article, and asked Christer how he was doing. As Christer began to share the dire details of his situation, Andy asked him if he had ever considered a living donor transplant. Later in that same conversation, although he had never considered organ donation before, Andy offered Christer part of his liver.
The two men who had worked together for years, but were barely more than strangers, immediately began the testing process to see if they were a match and if Andy’s liver was healthy enough. Only three years earlier, Andy would not have been a good candidate for organ donation. Now, thanks to diet and running, his liver was pristine.
When you start doing things, you don’t always know what the higher purpose is.
They decided to wait until after the holidays to undergo the surgery. In January 2015, one day after running the full Chevron Houston Marathon, Andy Rose gave Christer Hiort part of his liver and saved his life.
The transplant surgery was on Monday. Although it usually takes 10 days for the recipient to recover, both Andy and Christer were able to go home from the hospital on Friday.
My new liver started to filter the way it should almost immediately. Knowing that the body heals faster when it moves, I started walking.
Andy had given him a great new start, and Christer wasn’t wasting a moment of it.
The transplant process is an emotional one because the gift is so large. The gratitude is hard to deal with.
In an effort to maintain his own health, and to honor the man whose liver now lives inside of him, Christer started running, too. He downloaded the Couch to 5k app in the fall of 2015.
My goal was to take action and to take care of myself, and that his liver would live in a healthy home.
In the Spring of 2016, Christer ran his first 5k with Andy by his side.
Now two of Christer’s daughters are involved in running, too. It has become a family affair.
My kids love Andy for what he did. We are extended family now. We are blood brothers.
There are nearly 115,000 people on the National Transplant Waiting List.
22 Americans die every single day waiting for an organ. Every year there are fewer viable organs through deceased donations.
Living organ donation is the stopgap. It can mean life to someone who might not otherwise have a chance.
To find out more about living organ donation, contact The Living Bank, a Houston-based advocacy program that has been saving Texans’ lives through organ donation for 50 years.
The first Wednesday in June is National/Global Running Day.
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