The Transplant That Saved My Life

Northwestern Medicine
Organ Donation and Transplantation December 28, 2012
Margot Hamel-Christensen, a 62-year-old liver transplant patient, has agreed to share her inspiring story. Below is Margot's journey in her own words.

Margot Hamel-Christensen and Dr. Daniel GangerIn February 2009, I accompanied my fiancé Ray to his doctor to seek help concerning his back problem.  During the visit, his doctor paid more attention to me than Ray – he commented about the way I looked and advised me to see a physician immediately.  I was beginning to show signs of jaundice, which is a symptom of advanced liver disease.  I knew very little about liver disease, and was unaware that I had a very serious condition.

I experienced intense skin itching on my back and legs.  I became jaundiced (yellowing of the skin) all over my body, eyes, and face.  These symptoms brought us to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.  There, I was introduced to Dr. Daniel Ganger, a hepatologist who ordered more testing. His great compassion filled me with confidence that I was in good hands.  My diagnosis was a not so common liver disease called primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC). 

PBC is a slow-acting, chronic liver disease, which causes destruction of the microscopic bile ducts in the liver.  At present, the cause of PBC is unknown, but is thought to possibly be an autoimmune disease.  This is a silent disease, mostly among women, which develops for a period of 20-30 years until it appears over the age of 50.  When people hear the word "cirrhosis," they think alcoholic.  This is untrue, cirrhosis means scarring of the liver and it can be caused by number of conditions.

I was given meds to slow down the advancement of this disease and put on a very low sodium diet.  My hospital visits with Dr. Ganger became more frequent as my condition grew worse. Eventually, I was told I would need a liver transplant.  Ray and I kept our hopes and humor about the situation.  As my condition worsened, my  belly grew because of fluid accumulation, I commented, "Yeah, that's my water baby."  I was tapped several times to remove the fluid, once removing over four liters of liquid.  I went through a multitude of blood tests, x-rays, and scans.  I chose to maintain a positive attitude and a sense of humor, but this disease was progressing very fast and my survival time was shortening.

I admit that I was scared and cried “I don’t want to die.”  I had always taken good care of myself – eaten healthy foods and was very energetic.  I was adopted at the age of three months and never knew my biological medical history.  Throughout my life, I endured countless medical procedures, but the results always turned out negative –meaning no body viruses, no hepatitis-A/B nor C, and no cancer.  I was in good hands at Northwestern Memorial with the upmost professional and compassionate staff of hepatologists, surgeons, and nurses who became my “second” family. 

On November 12, 2009, at approximately 4 a.m. – I received a telephone call from Northwestern to tell me there was a donor who matched my physical size and blood type.  We quickly got dressed and immediately drove to Chicago.  During our drive, I called my brother-in-law to tell him “This is it.”  It was a solemn drive and we listened to Mozart to soothe us.  There was something magical about that date of November 12.  I told Ray "Six years ago on this day my mother passed away."  Somehow, I emotionally felt her with me, and knew everything would turn out fine.

Surgeon Dr. Juan Carlos Caicedo assured me all should be well,  once I arrived at the hospital.  He was very kind, and explained the transplant procedure in a way that calmed me. 

Ray was by my side throughout.  He was my rock.  We came home with a very thankful heart, and a healthy, functioning liver.  The healing process has been quite a challenge, but amazingly I am doing very well. The jaundice disappeared; I have a good appetite and am energetic – completely back to a normal life. 

I feel truly blessed to have been given a second chance where I am able to continue living every day filled with all the joys of life.

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