Maggie Kim is a 43-year-old Seattleite of Korean descent who has had two liver transplants due to liver cancer. She now lives an active and healthy lifestyle. She shares her story here, with the hope that it will encourage more people to register as organ donors.
By Maggie Kim
Special to Northwest Asian Weekly
I have lived in Seattle for the last 17 years and work as a bookkeeper and a musician. My parents both grew up in South Korea and moved to the United States in 1970, so my father could attend graduate school. He became a professor and our family lived in Iowa for most of my childhood.
I’ve always lived a very healthy and active life, and rarely caught a cold. In 2008, when I was 38 years old, I found out I had liver cancer. At the time, I was busy working, playing lots of music, traveling, spending time outdoors, and enjoying time with my friends and family. I was told I had two options — have the tumor surgically removed or have a liver transplant. When you’ve been so healthy your whole life, it’s an extra leap to fathom either of those options or even having cancer. Though I knew I was lucky to have options, I was very scared. I didn’t know anyone who had a transplant, so I elected for surgery to remove the tumor.
The surgery went well, but my doctor had warned me that there was a real possibility that other tumors would appear. A couple months later, this became true when an MRI scan showed another tumor. Transplant became my only option.
At that time, my parents were on an extended visit in Korea. My brother had passed away a couple years before, and we were all still grieving for him. It was really hard for me to have to tell them I was sick, and to ask them to leave to come help me. I had always imagined that my brother or I would be helping them navigate this country’s medical system, and now I was worried they would have to figure out how to take care of me if something went wrong.
Waiting and preparing
Before getting on the transplant list, I had to go to many appointments to make sure my whole body could survive a transplant, and also so the doctors could monitor the cancer. I was also trying to work as much as possible, and prepare mentally, physically, and emotionally for the transplant. It was an extremely busy time.
After all those tests were completed, I was placed on the waiting list and got “the call” a few months later. The night my cell phone rang, I was working late, and was so surprised to see a University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) number calling on my cell phone. I didn’t think the call would be for the transplant, but it was.
After the transplant surgery, I was recovering very quickly in the hospital. But after a couple days, my lab numbers were not dropping as they should have been. Instead, the numbers were rapidly increasing. It became apparent the liver wasn’t functioning — a very rare situation. With a non-functioning organ, I didn’t have a lot of time left, so the transplant team placed me on the waiting list again. Then, for the second time in less than a week, I was gifted life from another person who had donated their organ. That transplant was successful and I recovered quickly.
These days, when I’m buzzing through all my life activities, I often stop and have a reality check. I always feel a big wave of astonishment, joy, vigor, sorrow, and gratitude. I think of my two donor’s families, and am amazed that at the time of their greatest loss, they could be so gracious to donate the organs of their loved ones to help other people. And I think of the UWMC medical staff, my parents, family, and friends who helped so much. And I realize how lucky and blessed I am.
Since the transplants, I’ve returned to all my previous life activities, including rarely even catching a cold! I’m a member of the fitness group UWMC Team Transplant and have completed five half marathons, along with dozens of friends who have also had transplants. And I have been volunteering as a Patient Adviser at the UWMC, and as a Community Advocate at the organ procurement organization LifeCenter Northwest (LCNW). (end)
For more information about LifeCenter or organ donation, visit www.lcnw.org.