Local resident needs liver transplant, funds for living expenses

By Greg Miller

STAR STAFF

   Rick J. Garrison, a local resident facing a liver transplant, urgently needs an estimated $10,000 for living expenses over the next few months.
   Following the transplant, he will need an estimated $10,000 annually to cover insurance, anti-rejection medications and monthly travel expenses for checkups. With an anticipated life extension of at least 20 years, at least $250,000 may be required to meet those needs.
   According to Rick's Web site, (www.rick-garrison.com), the uncertainty of waiting for a liver has been very difficult for him and his wife, Alison. Although Rick is looking forward to receiving his liver transplant, his new concern is paying his uninsured medical expenses. He hopes that his friends, past colleagues and supporters within the community will be willing to assist him in raising funds.
   Rick, 47, who will have the transplant at Thomas E. Starzl Transplant Institute/Presbyterian Hospital, Pittsburgh, Penn., was diagnosed with Hepatitis C about five years ago.
   "He was going to work on a job at a nuclear plant in California in 1996," said Alison. "He had to go through some examinations, and they found his enzyme levels were different compared to a lot of people.
   "We found out that he had Hepatitis C and that he someday would probably need a liver transplant. Through the years, he's ended up with end-stage liver disease. He's number nine on the list of 180 people in Pittsburgh. He just started a new medicine on Saturday, which is the last medicine that a transplant patient gets to keep them out of a coma, because he has so many toxins that are accumulating into the brain because the liver is not functioning correctly. He needs a new liver very soon."
   Rick "is very responsible and independent to do everything he can for his wife," Alison said. "So he went to work in February, March and April of this year. He didn't tell them he was waiting for a liver transplant. He worked 70 hours a week underneath an atom nuclear bomb reactor in a total spacesuit and everything looking for cracks."
   Rick "takes five different medicines, mostly to keep down the fluids in his body and to slow down his body," Allison said. "This new medicine is to help keep him from disorientation and frustration and to cool the brain. We also have to watch his diet.
   "I figure that within the next three weeks to two months that he should be able to get a transplant. Then again, we have to, as we say, bow to other people who need a liver more than him. There's another higher level where the people need a liver within the next seven days because they're dying, because the last liver they received is under rejection...rejecting the body, so they have to give them a second liver or a third liver."
   Several factors, including blood type, number on the waiting list and geographic location determine who receives a liver for transplant, according to Alison. "They choose the one who is the closest at the time because the liver that's coming in on the helicopter is so precious," she said.
   Rick has blood type A positive, "a very common" blood type," Alison said. "I checked the statistics last night on the computer, and there's 20,000 people waiting for a liver transplant in the United States. Half of them have O positive. Half of them have A positive. If we live close to the hospital in Pittsburgh and he has A positive blood, they will probably take him quicker than us being in Tennessee. So we're trying to raise money to go to Pittsburgh and stay at the Family House."
   Rick faced death on Sept. 5, when he was rushed to The Cleveland Clinic, Naples, Fla., for immediate surgery for an umbilical hernia. The procedure, Alison said, is "a simple operation for a healthy man but a risky operation for Rick." The Garrisons were told that Rick's chances of living through the night were very small. Prior to the operation, the surgeons gave Rick platelets and plasma to keep him from bleeding to death during surgery. "The time given to intravenous platelets and plasma was critical," Alison said. "The surgeons had less than an hour and a half to perform the surgery, otherwise his intestines would have been strangled and he would die.
   Alison, Rick's sons (Eric and Zachary), his parents, Jack and Geneva Garrison, his grandmothers, Dora Holly and the late Alta Garrison, his sister, Melissa, along with aunts, uncles and cousins and other relatives prayed for Rick during the surgery.
   "Miraculously," Alison said, "the surgeon came out and said, 'It is just a miracle, your husband is alive.'"
   In addition to believing that the Lord will perform a miracle and bring Rick through the upcoming transplant, Alison believes in putting legs on her prayers. "We also have to do some action here," she said. "We can't just place things into His hands and just sit here and do nothing. I have to believe that when Rick finally goes into the operation room that I have done both, that I have prayed and I have done whatever I could to save his life."
   Before Rick can have the liver transplant, he must have a surgical procedure done on his esophagus. This procedure must also be performed in Pittsburgh.
   Rick, Alison says, "is in very good spirits. He has kept himself in very high spirits most of the whole time. He wants to live, and he is determined to live."
   Now disabled, Rick is an experienced nuclear engineer. "He has been working for the past 25 years at nuclear plants all over the United States," Alison said.
   Rick's insurance, which comes with a premium of almost $900 every three months, will pay the cost of the operation, approximately $315,000-350,000. The insurance will also cover the hospital stay following the surgery. Since Rick worked as a freelancer throughout his career, he must pay for his insurance.
   Alison is unable to work because she spends all of her time caring for Rick. The couple, which rents a house from Hunter Memorial Baptist Church, has had no regular income since May. In addition to food stamps, the family "has been giving the whole time," Alison said.
   Alison and Rick knew each other for 1 1/2 years before their June 26 wedding. "I knew he was ill, but I married him anyway because I love him," she said.
   Carolyn Minton, one of Rick's aunts, is spearheading a fundraising effort for her nephew. "We're going to try to get interviews on the radio and TV stations and newspapers," Minton said. She also mentioned the possibility of having local churches host benefit concerts for the Garrisons.
   Contributions for living expenses prior to the transplant are urgent and should be sent to Rick J. Garrison, 109 Sunrise Dr., Elizabethton, TN 37643. Donations for post-transplant use should be sent to American Liver Foundation, Transplant Trust Fund for Rick J. Garrison, 1425 Pompton Ave., Cedar Grove, NJ 07009. Make sure to indicate Rick J. Garrison on the memo line of your check.
   For more information, or to volunteer in the fundraising effort, contact The Committee for Rick J. Garrison at rjg@rick-garrison.com, call Steve and Carolyn Minton at 542-6151 or Roger and Sherry Hamm at 542-0929.