This upcoming May 3rd, 2018 I will be celebrating my sixth transplant anniversary. Six years already, it is so hard to believe! It seems just like yesterday I was laying in my hospital bed at Yale New-Haven Hospital hooked up to various tubes and wires struggling to open eyes but hearing the words of excitement being shouted at me from my mother, “You had a transplant! Mo, you had your liver transplant!”
My entire life I had grown-up playing sports, I was an athlete, I was seemingly very healthy, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. Now it’s 2012, I am still more or less a kid at age 26, and I was being admitted to Yale New-Haven Hospital on April 29th, 2012 to the transplant center for acute liver failure. I had just recently spend 16 trying days in the hospital at Greenville Memorial in Greenville, SC until I left most of their medical team stumped with my diagnosis and prognosis–Autoimmune Hepatitis? Factor V Leiden? Budd Chiari? What does she have, what is wrong with her. We’re not 100% sure but we know her liver is failure, and she needs a transplant, and she needs it fast.
I was transplanted up north, to Connecticut, the state I hail from, to be closer to my loving extended family and to attend one of the most well-know and sought after transplant hospitals in the country, Yale-New Haven Transplant Center. I’d been at Yale for only several days, and I remembered my extended family by my side, visiting, coloring pictures and hanging them around the hospital room to brighten up the atmosphere. While we all tried to stay positive, my medical team was performing tests, biopsies, more tests, waiting, sleeping, more waiting, more sleeping. And then one day I woke-up…with tubes in my mouth.
“You had a transplant! Mo, you had your liver transplant!” screamed by mom. What? What happened? I had my liver transplant, ALREADY?! This words present in my thoughts, not being able to actually speak them on my own as I was hooked up to a ventilator. I signaled with my hands for pen and paper and the first things I scribbled to my mother were, “You’re a liar. I did not have a transplant.” I was in complete disbelief.
Then I remembered. I remembered getting to go up to use the bathroom. I had been calling for a nurse but no one was near. Even though I was instructed to stay in bed, I’m as stubborn as they come, I truly felt like I could make it to the bathroom on my own. I mean common, on any given day making a 10 foot trek to the rest room wouldn’t seem like such a feat. I didn’t take into consideration that my liver was is in failure and I was nearly 75 lbs overweight from edema, my body full of unwelcomed fluid expanding by the second. On top of this, I was unaware that my liver had accidentally been “nicked” during my liver biopsy causing internal bleeding. At that moment the last thing I recall was my vision tilting to the left and having no control of my body to support myself as I felt myself falling and as I hit the ground I heard “CODE BLUE! CODE BLUE!” being shouted as my eyes closed. Not another sound could be heard until days later when I awoke and heard, “You had a transplant! Mo you had a liver transplant!”
That was May 3rd, 2012. Not even three weeks after my life-saving liver transplant, I had brain surgery. My first brain surgery. A week later I had my second brain surgery, the third life-saving procedure done in a matter of five short weeks. The infection happened within days of my transplant. Aspergillosis, which is essentially an airborne fungus, found its way into my weak transplanted body through my respiratory system, moved its way into my blood stream, and from there, the infection made a home in the left occipital lobe of my brain. The form of this infection, Invasive Aspergillus, is an extremely rare and life-threatening fungal infection with a devastating mortality rate, reaching nearly a 100%, for transplant and immunosuppressed patients. With those kind of odds, and my body and immune system not nearly ready to take on such a challenge so soon after my transplant, there seemed like there was not much hope for my survival.
Despite the extreme odds against my survival, no one in my inner circle acted like the end of the road was so near for me. My family pumped me up with encouragement, love, and support, my doctors and surgeons, Dr. Rodriguez, Dr. Schilsky, Dr. Matouk and their respected medical teams at Yale, were willing to do whatever it took within in their power to remove that infection safely from my brain. And then there were my friends, the most amazing friends in the world, who visited in person or who were situated hundreds of miles away, let me know through texts, phone calls, cards, gift baskets, virtual hugs and prayers that they were with me 100% of the way. People I had never met were reaching out to me sending their prayers. With this kind of backing from every corner, there is no way I wasn’t going down without a fight, WE weren’t going down without a fight.
As I lay unconscious, hooked up to all sorts of tubes and wires to keep oxygen pumping into my lungs and my heart beating, I somehow remember hearing my Aunt Caryn’s voice. She was by my bedside, holding my hand, telling me that it’s not over, and that I was going to have to fight harder than I’ve ever fought before but that she was going to be right by my side the entire way. At that moment, as I lay still, my eyes closed, my aunt felt a faint hand squeeze acknowledging that her words were heard and I was on-board for the fight.
As you read this blog post, you know I survived. I will spare you the details of the recovery process and the amount of time and pain-staking effort, and therapy (physical, occupational, speech, psycho, vision, & driving therapy) to get back on my feet, literally and metaphorically.
After seeing Dr. Shulman at EyeCare Associates in Norwalk, a year of Vision Therapy with April Banores, and Driver Rehabilitation with Howie at Kneplar Driving School, I was cleared to drive again. My drive didn’t stop there though. I got it into my head that I wanted to pursue my life-long dream of being a professional golfer. I heard a lot of, “One thing at a time Mo,” “You’re doing great, don’t try to do too much too soon,” things of that nature. But if I had learned one thing from my survival and this new lease on life, it was that the time is NOW. Inside me, in my body, was a liver that didn’t belong to me and it was my duty from here on out to make my life something worth living and to make them proud. So right then and there I started gathering information on how to become a golf professional. Fast-forward a few years down the road and here I am now, an LPGA Class A Golf Professional, US Kids Golf Certified, working on my Level II PGA Certification. I left my job at Tamarack Country Club in Greenwich, to follow my heart and the warmer temperatures back down to the south to Raleigh, NC to continue my career at TPC Wakefield Plantation, part of the McConnell Golf network where I am currently employed as an Assistant Golf Professional.
It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day life of work and emails and forget about the bigger picture, and I am the first one to fall into that trap. Writing this blog post has reminded me that life is about gratitude, and being grateful for each and every day–grateful for your health, your family, your friends, and all of the wonderful people you have in your corner. I am grateful to not only have one chance at life, but to be blessed with a second opportunity to live it and to live it right. This opportunity would not have been possible without my family, my medical team, my friends, God, or my anonymous donor, who I owe each and every day to.
Being a registered donor isn’t just a yes or no decision, it is a decision to save people’s lives, and I am forever grateful for my anonymous donor in making the decision to save lives. Without him/her and their decision to be a registered donor, I wouldn’t be a golf pro, I wouldn’t raising awareness about organ/tissue donation, I just wouldn’t be alive. This charity golf tournament I am putting together is for my donor, it is for his/her family, and because of their decision to be an organ donor, my life was saved, and now I can go on to help and raise money and awareness to save many more lives like my own.
“I oddly didn’t see my diagnosis as a misfortune, rather, I saw it as an opportunity — an opportunity to change my life, an opportunity to regain my purpose, and an opportunity to impact the lives of others.” ~Mo Gesualdi