The best wedding gift
It happened quite suddenly. Janice Corbin was feeling well, excited for her daughter’s wedding in August. Then one day in July she looked in the mirror and wondered how she was getting so tanned.
“The day before my daughter’s wedding dress fitting my eyes went yellow, I was so yellow,” says Janice. “I didn’t say anything to my daughter because I wanted to go to the dress fitting, but I had already been told by my doctor’s office to go straight to the emergency department.”
Her doctor sent her to the Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, where Janice lives, and she was admitted for tests. A few days later she was transferred to the Liver Unit at London Health Sciences Centre.
Janice was diagnosed with an acute form of autoimmune hepatitis and urgently needed a liver transplant.
“It is very rare to have such a rapid and severe onset of this condition leading to life-threatening liver failure,” says Dr. Paul Marotta, Medical Director of Liver Transplantation at LHSC.
“The vast majority of patients with autoimmune hepatitis never come to need a transplant. With this severe presentation the liver failure is profound and leads to death, and a liver transplant is the only lifesaving intervention.”
With her daughter’s wedding set for August 6 in Owen Sound, Janice was too sick to travel.
“On the day of the wedding my husband and I got all dressed up. My friend and her partner also came to the hospital and I had to borrow a dress because mine didn’t fit I was so bloated,” says Janice.
The small group went down to the gazebo in front of University Hospital, where they used Face Time to join the wedding.
“For the wedding I had bought my daughter all the items needed for bubbles, and after the vows everyone was blowing bubbles along the Georgian Bay waterfront,” she says.
Following the ceremony Janice, her husband Marlon and her friends were taken up to the transplant unit garden and toasted with non-alcoholic champagne.
The morning after the wedding Janice was woken at 5 a.m.
“My nurse Melanie came in and said they had a liver that might be a match for me, and if it was, the transplant would be soon. Then we both cried,” says Janice.
That day was a whirlwind. Janice had a series of tests and blood work, and then was brought in to surgery around midnight.
“I remember being wheeled into the OR, it looked like the size of a gym,” says Janice.
“There was a cooler over to the side and I thought, ‘I wonder if this is my new liver?’ Then I was out and I woke up a couple of days later.”
The transplant was a success and Janice spent the next 18 days in hospital, first in the Intensive Care Unit in an induced coma for two days, and then in the Multi-Organ Transplant Unit.
Recovery was gradual.
“I would be at physiotherapy lifting weights along with other patients who had transplants, and we were all so slow,” says Janice. “Then after you’ve been in hospital for a while and new people come in, you can see how much progress you’ve made.”
The changes in health that Janice went through in such a short period in the summer of 2016 were extreme and without any obvious symptoms.
“The liver differs from other organs in that advanced disease is usually free of symptoms, and liver disease has been termed the ‘silent killer’ for this reason. Liver diseases are the highest health risk in our environment, especially fatty liver disease, and viral diseases such as Hepatitis C,” says Dr. Marotta.
“The diseases are not new, but it takes a long time to develop symptoms, people have had the disease for decades and the liver functions very well, until suddenly it doesn’t. It’s like walking towards the edge of a cliff - everything is fine until suddenly the ground drops away. People have no knowledge that they are not well, they are asymptomatic. It is a quiet disease.”
Janice considers herself lucky to have had an organ match in such a short time.
She is grateful for the care she received from the nurses, the doctors, the personal support workers, and all those involved in her care. “Everyone was so wonderful.”
And the transplant, says her daughter Jenna, “It was the best wedding gift.”