Out of nowhere 24-year-old Andrew Thomas’ feet started to swell.
The Cawston man and his mother Susanne Thomas didn’t think too much of it at the time other than maybe it was because he’d been working extra hours at his job at Penticton’s Classic Guitars store. They thought perhaps his feet were swelling because he was walking a lot more on cement floors than usual.
But about a week later when his calves and legs started to swell they knew it was time to get things checked out.
He went to the doctor and had blood work done and he was prescribed diuretics. No one thought then that he would soon need a liver transplant.
By mid-March he had approximately 100 pounds of excess water accumulated on his body. He was having trouble breathing and he started to turn a little blue, Susanne Thomas said during an interview at the Review.
“He had so much fluid the right lung was 90 per cent collapsed and the left lung was 40 per cent collapsed.”
His chest was tapped to drain the accumulated fluid.
Doctor’s then suspected something was going on with his liver.
He was sent to Vancouver General Hospital to be seen by a liver specialist. There, he underwent a slew of tests including chest Xrays, MRI, ultrasounds and more blood work.
“He was in fairly good shape until two days later when he started having stomach pain and nausea. He turned blue and coded,” Susanne said, her voice breaking as she remembered what her son had been through.
“When you’re going through all this you don’t have time to process what’s happening. You’re so busy going through it,” she said.
Andrew survived the night but there’s about an eight hour gap in his memory, which his mother is thankful for.
The next day he was put on the transplant list.
“We were told it was a great time to be on the transplant list. There was a lot of people with his blood type B-positive,” she said.
Before Andrew and his mother Susanne even left Penticton for Vancouver word had gotten out amongst his friends and people in the community there was a good chance he would need a liver transplant.
“There were friends and cousins and friends of friends that all said they would go out and get tested. There were people we didn’t even know that said ‘If you need a part of my liver you’ve got it.’ There were relatives that said they weren’t smoking or drinking till they heard,” she said with a laugh.
Although forever grateful for the gestures, it turned out that before many could get tested Andrew had a donor.
Within 24 hours a match was found. The same person donated their heart, lungs, kidneys, corneas, and liver.
“It’s amazing. One person saved seven lives that day,” she said.
There were some complications with the transplant and six additional surgeries were required.
“He had seven surgeries in 16 days, but we’ll take it,” she said.
Andrew was diagnosed with congenital fibrosis of the liver.
“It usually manifests in infants and toddlers and they usually die. There aren’t a lot of infant donors out there. The medical teams are quite fascinated with this,” she said.
The diagnosis allowed the Thomas’ to warn other members of their families as the disease is hereditary under certain circumstances.
There’s no known medical reason why the disease didn’t impact Andrew sooner in life but she’s thankful for her son’s wise life decisions not to smoke or drink.
Eventually Susanne and Andrew were able to leave the hospital and stay in an apartment nearby. They were told they wouldn’t be able to return home until at least July but Andrew’s test results showed so much promise they were able to come home about three weeks ago.
While they were away and Andrew’s dad George continued to work out of town to support the family, neighbours and other community members pitched in feeding the horses, cutting the hay, planting a garden and even cleaning the house.
And when they arrived home the fridge was stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables and on the counter there was fresh baking and even a bottle of red wine for Susanne.
Also while away prayer circles were ongoing for the family.
“We appreciate all the support we’ve received. This community really rallied around us and we are so grateful,” she said.
Susanne said she has a standard line for people when they ask what they can do for her family, “Fill out your donor card. I knew everything else would fall into place. That’s still what people can do if they want to help. Fill out your donor card. If someone didn’t do that my son might not have received a liver when he needed one,” she said.
Andrew is on the mend now but he has a long road ahead of him. Because he’s on anti-rejection drugs he’s immunosupressed. He’s on a variety of medications and vitamins to bring his liver function up to regular levels.
Andrew does not have prescription drug coverage and it will be quite some time before he can return to work.
His friends and family are holding a fundraiser to help raise money for his medical costs on June 18 at the Wrong Turn Tavern starting at 4 p.m. The event will include a silent and loonie auction.
A Go Fund Me page has also been setup for those wanting to donate at www.gofundme.com/AndrewThomas.