Liver Transplant Recipient
In the late 1980s while living in Chicago, Walter Sims started retaining fluids and his weight increased. Dismissing the weight gain and his friend's plea to visit a doctor about the problem, Walter continued going about his life and remained a heavy drug user. What Walter didn't know was that he was infected with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) and his symptoms would only grow worse.
A few years later, Walter was admitted to the hospital with a bad case of the flu. He explains, "My right leg was as red as a tomato and hot to the touch. They hospitalized me for 12 days because I was so sick, but the doctors didn't diagnose the hepatitis C until a year and a half later, in September 1994." Walter went to a primary care physician in Chicago to monitor his disease and then when he moved to the Bay Area, he visited both the East Oakland Medical Center and Highland Hospital Liver Clinic.
"I knew that at some point I would need a transplant, but I hadn't pursued getting on the waiting list," says Walter. After Walter met doctors from California Pacific's liver team, he came to the hospital for a three-day evaluation. Although Walter's transplant need was evident, his high-risk behavior concerned the liver team, so after his evaluation, he was "deferred" for six months. This status meant he had to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly and sign a contract stating he would not drink or do drugs. Additionally, his follow-through on keeping appointments and having labs done would be monitored to ensure he was committed to transplantation.
In May 1997, Walter was added to California Pacific's transplant list and began the long wait for a liver. As he waited year after year, Walter's condition deteriorated but he remained optimistic. Then, on New Year's Eve 1999, Walter learned that a family friend was killed during a gang fight in Chicago's Cook County Jail and his relatives offered the liver to Walter. "At 1:30 a.m., my surgeon, Dr. Osorio, called to notify me of the availability of a liver. I consulted with my family and Dr. Osorio continued to check in over the next few hours about my decision," explains Walter. "It was a hard decision because if my friend had recent high-risk behavior in prison, the testing wouldn't adequately reflect his HIV and hepatitis status. I made the decision to not take the liver and hoped for the best."
Eventually, Walter became so sick that he was admitted to California Pacific Medical Center in May 2000. His name was at the top of the waiting list for a new liver and on June 3rd, he received his transplant.
"I was so ready for that surgery and wanted it so badly that I was totally relaxed," says Walter. "I couldn't believe it was reality when I came to and saw my family and fiance after the transplant. It felt like a new birth -- I was filled with euphoria."
Walter has similar praise for his liver transplant team. "California Pacific has become like a second home to me," he explains. "I love all the doctors and the team there so much -- they're friendly, patient and were great every step of the way." And of the Medical Center, Walter says, "I never met anyone in the hospital who wasn't real, real, real nice. They all have a wonderful attitude."
After his transplant, Walter recovered in the hospital for six days before returning home. "Everything was swollen after the surgery and I was real nauseous," he says. Now, though, a month after his transplant, "my life has never been better." His transplant team has called him the "poster boy" for showing what it takes to get a transplant and he continues to follow all the doctors' orders, taking care of himself and his new liver.