The best present of all

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 21, 2002

Health is the best gift Vicki Blake of Albert Lea could have this Christmas.

And she has that back, thanks to her daughter, Lisa Matson. Matson donated half of her liver to her mother on Nov. 13.

Blake had contracted Hepatitis C at age 17. &uot;I forgot about it,&uot; she said. &uot;I was fine.&uot;

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But a few years ago, after she broke her arm, she had to have a bone graft off her pelvis. &uot;My liver shut down, and it was from the Hepatitis C I had as a child,&uot; she said.

Over the past two years, she found her mind affected a lot.

&uot;Her body couldn’t filter out the toxins,&uot; Matson explained.

Added Blake, &uot;I hadn’t read a book in two years because I couldn’t retain anything. There were times I didn’t know where I was.&uot;

She also was unable to work at the family business, Blake’s Body Shop, as she previously had.

While she was on medication since her liver had shut down, it was not a permanent solution to Blake’s problems. A transplant was a more viable option, she said.

The family chose to have the transplant done at the University of Minnesota Hospitals. Blake said she liked the program there, and knew the University of Minnesota was the first to do a successful liver transplant.

Right away, the U of M Hospitals staff brought up the idea of a living donor. The transplant list is long, and it may have been a couple of years before Blake could have gotten a liver.

A tissue match isn’t needed with live donors, the mother and daughter said. The donor needs to have blood work done to make sure he or she is healthy. Doctors also do a CAT scan to make sure the liver is structurally similar to the person getting it. Matson also had to give two units of blood for her own use during the surgery.

While Blake has three daughters, all of whom would have given their mother part of their livers, Matson was the one with the fewest complications.

&uot;Nobody realizes what it involves,&uot; Blake said.

Matson’s employer, Albert Lea Medical Center, was extremely supportive. Co-workers donated some of their sick days so she could take a six-week leave following the transplant, and others helped with paperwork.

&uot;There were also lots of e-mails, cards and lots of prayers,&uot; Matson said. &uot;I don’t think I would have been able to do this without help from work.&uot;

Both mother and daughter entered the hospital on Nov. 13 and were discharged in seven days. Blake’s oldest daughter, Jennifer, lives in the Twin Cities, as does a sister, and they helped with recuperation, as did her younger daughter, Rachel.

The surgery is actually harder on the donor, the pair said. &uot;I was up, walking around and feeling good,&uot; Blake recalled.

Matson admits she didn’t feel so well at first.

People’s livers actually consist of two lobes. Doctors took the larger of Matson’s lobes and gave it to her mother. &uot;The smaller lobe will actually expand to take over the job of the whole liver within six weeks,&uot; Matson explained.

While Blake is feeling good now, it’s not uncommon for a transplant recipient to end up back in the hospital a number of times during the first year, she said. &uot;But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.&uot;

Blake knows she will be taking medications for the rest of her life. She currently takes 18 pills a day. Eventually they’ll cut down on them. But for now, many of them are to counter the side effects of other drugs, she said.

But life is much better, and Blake hopes eventually to get back to work herself.

&uot;This is the best Christmas present I could have,&uot; Blake said. &uot;I don’t need anything else.&uot;