Commentary: A young father lives on through me

This time of year I wonder how I can ever really say thank you for the gift of life. I am alive because someone gave me his liver. It was this single act of kindness that saved my life on Feb. 27.

Five years ago, my liver began to fail. I started having pain in my side and overall, I just didn't feel right. I went to many doctors who treated my symptoms, but I still never felt normal. I had low energy, and my mind was foggy.

In January 2012, I started having back pains, and at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, Dr. Jeanie Spudick diagnosed a serious blood infection. This blood infection spread to the nerves in my leg and into my spine. Soon I lost all strength in my left leg. Later, I found out that the blood infection had spread because of my liver disease.

Four months later, I went into a hepatic coma for three days. I woke up in the hospital and was told I had hepatic encephalopathy. Dr. Spudick visited me in the hospital and recommended Dr. Donald Abrahm, who referred me to the acclaimed hepatologist Dr. Robert Gish at UC San Diego.

I was diagnosed with NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis) and was determined to be genetically deficient in Alpha 1 antitrypsin, C, and S proteins and antithrombin. Dr. Gish told me that I would need a liver transplant. Over the next eight months, I spent days in the hospital, due to the encephalopathy, ascites and portal vein thrombosis. The quality of my life was deteriorating by the day.

On Feb. 26, UCSD called to inform me that a liver was donated and was a perfect match. I had my transplant Feb. 27. My life was saved due to the kindness of my donor and his family.

Jason was a 30-year-old father of two little girls. He lives on through me.

Receiving a second chance at life through organ donation has made me understand the importance of giving thanks. I give thanks to my donor for giving me quality life and more time with my loving wife, family and friends. My wife, Lauren, and I hike, jog, bicycle and enjoy every day we have and the opportunity to share the life of my donor with others.

Each of us has an opportunity to give of ourselves in ways that can save and enhance the lives of more than 50 people. I am inspired daily that in a time of deep loss, complete strangers look beyond their own grief and give to others.

This Thanksgiving, as your family gives thanks, please consider also giving life. During 2013, the donation community has a national goal of registering 20 million Americans as organ and tissue donors. Go to today or check "yes" at the DMV. Your gift of life will be a lasting legacy of generosity and love.

JOHN WHALEN lives in Costa Mesa.

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