When the telephone rang at 1 o'clock in the morning June 30, Betsy Glassman woke up to the sound of her son Jeff answering in the other room. "Probably one of his friends," she thought. Then she heard him say, "I'll get her."
Even though she had been waiting for a liver transplant for several months, the caller took her by surprise. "We've got your liver," she heard from transplant nurse coordinator Laura Schoonmaker when she finally got to the telephone. An hour after the call, Mrs. Glassman was at Medical Center Hospital in San Antonio being prepared for the lifesaving operation.
The surgery went exceptionally well - a short five hours with only three pints of blood and no complications. Mrs. Glassman became the fifth patient to receive a liver transplant through the liver transplant program started by Glenn A. Halff, MD, in the fall of 1992.
"Mrs. Glassman did very well," Dr. Halff said. "She needed the transplant because she suffered from primary biliary cirrhosis."
Dr. Halff is pleased with the liver program's rapid progress. "We have developed a good team of nurses, perfusionists, anesthesiologists and others who can work together well and make sure that patients receive the best treatment and follow-up care possible," he said.
The Bexar County Hospital District has begun work on a new transplant unit projected to be complete in the next two years. In the meantime, transplant patients are housed in a special wing of the 12th floor of Medical Center Hospital.
The program is the only civilian liver transplant service in the San Antonio, Austin and South Texas areas. "This is an important service for area patients, who otherwise would have to travel long distances," Dr. Halff said. "Patients can stay in town and be available for closer follow-up care. Also, the program allows us to expose medical students and surgery residents to state-of-the-art care."
Although the liver has one of the strongest regenerative abilities of any internal organ, certain diseases and congenital abnormalities can render it powerless to heal itself. "Without a transplant, patients such as Mrs. Glassman would die," Dr. Halff said.
Mrs. Glassman's condition was first diagnosed by Dr. Gary Gossen at the Diagnostic Clinic of San Antonio. "I had gone to the doctor thinking I was having heart problems from stress," she said. He finally confirmed the diagnosis with blood tests and a liver biopsy. "My cholesterol was getting way too high. I was always tired and my bones were getting soft, which I now know was a side effect of the liver problem," she said.
While recuperating at Medical Center Hospital, Mrs. Glassman looked back on her life. "I've been very lucky," she said. "My parents made me feel special my whole life and I tried to give that love to my two sons. Love is the most important thing in life. My mother died in 1973 and my father died last year at age 94. I learned from him to never give up."
Back at her home in San Antonio, she is anxious to get back to her job working with her cousin in his jewelry business and also to spread the word about the importance of donating organs. "People have to know about signing donor cards," she said. "I've been given the gift of life and I want to help give something back. Tell people to put aside their superstitions and sign a donor card and then share their decision with family members."
Mrs. Glassman will remain on drugs to suppress her immune system to the point that it will not reject the new organ. She knows the source of her new liver and plans to write a letter to the family members of the donor thanking them for their part in her lifesaving transplant. She refers to the new organ as "him."
"We're doing fine," she said. "He and I are working together and we haven't had any problems."