CABOT, Ark. — A preacher and grandfather is thankful for another Christmas after fearing his liver disease wouldn’t allow him to make it. Terry Fortner benefitted from a new lifesaving device used in Arkansas for the first time in his surgery.
Every week, Terry Fortner reminds the Zion Hill Baptist Church in Cabot to be ready to meet their Lord, but in September the preacher thought he may be the next one. His fatty liver disease took a turn for the worse, and he was placed on the transplant list on Sept. 24 and waited.
“I was told to expect it to be months to sometimes years,” Fortner said. “As bad as I got the week before. I don’t know if I could have lasted that long.”
The device preserves donated livers by pumping them with oxygen and nutrients allowing 12 hours of travel in prime condition before a transplant. Lifeshare of Oklahoma Chief Executive Officer Jeff Orlowski says some results show a liver could be preserved up to two days with the machine.
UAMS performed the liver transplant surgery in Little Rock. UAMS transplant surgeon, Raj Patel, M.D. said organs begin deteriorating rapidly upon removal, and their condition upon arrival affects the difficulty of the surgery and the extent of post-operative measures such as transfusions.
Before the Food and Drug Administration approved OrganOx in January 2022 the liver would have been transported on ice in a plane.
Orlowski said, “While the plane ride is shorter than the drive, getting it to and from the airport and all that don’t necessarily happen instantaneously. So, it’s a lot longer process than just the flight.”
LifeShare is the first organ procurement organization in the U.S. to own and operate the OrganOx. Oklahoma has used theirs four times since May.
“All of those patients have done really well, and all of them were organs that probably otherwise would not have been transplanted,” Orlowski stated.
Health experts estimate 20 people die every day waiting for an organ that never comes. When Fortner’s liver arrived and he went into surgery, there was one thing on his mind.
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou are with me’, and I felt God’s presence with me,” he quoted to himself. “For whatever reason he chose to leave me here, I’m in his hands.”
Since the surgery, Fortner has lost 80 pounds. The grandad is taking the best care of his body just like the machine that took the best care of his new liver.
“I preached it, and I believed it, but now I’ve experienced it. God answers prayers. He still works miracles,” Fortner insisted.
With his extended life, Fortner is preaching for more people to register as organ donors. Only 45% of Americans are, and 120,000 are waiting for an organ nationally. According to the group Every Organ Donor, nearly 300 people are waiting for an organ transplant in Arkansas.
UAMS hopes to obtain its own OrganOx Metra in 2023.