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“In Sickness and In Health” Husband Donates 40 Percent of Liver to Save His Wife’s Life

“My whole world just came crashing down,” said Karen Rudolfi of Clarks Summit, PA. “You don’t realize how much people rely on donors until you need one.”

After battling Sarcoidosis in her lungs and liver for 16 years, Karen’s condition had become unstable. Her declining health came to a head after she began to turn jaundice and was experiencing episodes of nausea, bringing her to consult a gastroenterologist. Testing revealed the severity of Karen’s condition and she was told the only treatment would be to receive a life-saving liver transplant.

Karen met up with a team at Hershey Medical Center to begin the process of qualifying for a transplant and finding a donor. Doctors suggested Karen find a living donor to avoid the wait of the national transplant waiting list, which could take over a year.

“When we first met with the team we wanted the procedure done in May,” Karen said, explaining how they wanted the transplant to fit her work schedule as a teacher. “The doctors told me it didn’t work like that.”

The process to become a living donor is not as simple as selecting a volunteer to donate his or her liver. The testing process to identify a match is lengthy and can take multiple tries. Karen’s first thought of who may be a match was to ask one of her sisters to be tested, as blood relatives are often more likely to be matches for a successful transplant. Karen’s husband, Gary Rudolfi, had a different plan.

“The doctors didn’t think Gary would be a match,” Karen said, but the result defied their expectations. “My husband was the first and only one tested.”

Hershey Medical staff did their best to keep the couple informed, explaining the transplant and recovery procedure for both recipient and living donor. Their family members rallied with support, helping Karen and Gary in any way possible and even holding a benefit at the local fire hall to show their support.

Karen and Gary’s surgery dates were set, ironically, for May. Karen remembers the doctor tapping her on the leg as she was rolled into the operating room saying, “Well I guess you are having it done in May,” recalling her original request.

“My husband went above and beyond for me that day,” Karen said. “I remember laying in the ICU and thinking about how people stress over little, unnecessary things. Everything we do matters, every day is a gift.”

Gary was able to donate 40 percent of his liver to his wife in a successful transplant. However, post-transplant, the couple was met with another challenge. Both required some recovery time to return to their best health. Their families made this process as easy as possible, so that Karen and Gary could focus on their recovery and quickly return to a normal, healthy life for the fall and beginning of the new school year. Gary was released before Karen and was assisted by his sister and a home care nurse. Karen continued her recovery at Hershey Medical and was frequently visited by friends. Their house and meals were taken care of by their family members and their nephew took care of the lawn work. The community overwhelmed them with support.

Five years later, both Karen and Gary are living strong, healthy lives thanks to Gary’s sacrifice, their Hershey Medical team, and countless friend and family supporters.

“My team was my angels,” Karen said about her doctors and nurses at Hershey Medical.  “I feel blessed to be able to share my story and I thank God every night. Every day is a gift; this was truly ‘A Gift of Life’.”

2 Responses to ““In Sickness and In Health” Husband Donates 40 Percent of Liver to Save His Wife’s Life”

  1. Mary Kap Parlo says:

    What a beautiful story thank you for sharing! May you both be Blessed with many more years of good health, love and happiness!
    We too had a “team of angels” from Hershey Our son is a kidney transplant recipient 12/16/14. The greatest gift one can receive is ” the gift of of life!”

  2. Mary Kap Parlo says:

    Oops name is Mary Kay

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