The Challenge: Non-Alcoholic Cirrhosis of the Liver
Linda Turkaly has an extensive travel list to tick off before her next birthday: a summer getaway to Myrtle Beach with her entire family, a stop in South Dakota to cheer on her husband as he runs a half marathon, and a long-anticipated road trip to Yellowstone National Park. Then she’ll join her daughter in New Orleans to celebrate another year of life.
“I often say that I feel better at 69 than I did in my 50s,” Linda says. That’s because for a large portion of her 50s, she suffered from numerous medical issues, like gastric bleeding and itchy skin, which made even the thought of travel seem impossible.
These symptoms would eventually be linked to cirrhosis of the liver – a diagnosis that, for Linda, came as a shock since she rarely drank alcoholic beverages and had associated cirrhosis with alcoholism.
Cirrhosis of the liver is a chronic disease that leads to scarring. This built-up scar tissue prevents the liver from functioning properly, which can lead to the symptoms Linda experienced and, in time, result in liver failure.
The Path to UPMC: Solving the Mystery
Initially, Linda was treated in her home state of West Virginia for sepsis and an infection in her foot that prompted a conversation about amputation. She was subsequently flown by helicopter to UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh, where she received antibiotics and underwent dialysis.
Soon after Linda returned home, she experienced an episode of gastric bleeding and was flown once more to UPMC Mercy, where doctors were able to pinpoint the cause of her medical issues. The culprit, it turned out, was Linda’s liver. She needed a transplant.
“There were times when I had to be hospitalized because my ammonia count was too high; my speech wasn’t good,” Linda recalls. “The toxins were building up in my body. I don’t even remember them taking me to Pittsburgh.”
Linda’s two brothers were then tested to see if they had the potential to undergo a living-donor liver transplant – a transplant in which a living person has a piece of their healthy liver removed and transplanted into another person to replace a diseased liver. Unfortunately, they weren’t good candidates, and Linda found herself on the waiting list for a deceased liver transplant. During her two-year wait on the list, she made frequent trips to Pittsburgh with her husband to receive care at UPMC.
The Solution: Two Transplants
Finally, in November 2008, Linda reached the top of the transplant waiting list and underwent a liver transplant with Dr. Roberto Carlos Lopez. Receiving her new liver was, in Linda’s words, nothing short of a blessing. However, in the months following the surgery, Linda’s body took a turn for the worse: her kidneys started to shut down. She had to go back on dialysis, which she remained on for the next six years.
Both Linda’s daughter and a friend from church were evaluated as potential kidney donors, but neither of them qualified.
Linda eventually received a kidney from an unknown, deceased donor, much like she had for her liver transplant. She underwent a kidney transplant with Dr. Martin Wijkstrom in 2014. Even now, nearly a decade since her liver transplant and a few years since her kidney transplant, Linda wishes she could get in contact with her donors’ families and thank them.
“In my heart, I want those families to know how sorry I am for their loss, and how grateful I am for living – for being given the gift of life.”
The Results: A Vibrant Life with Family
Linda and her husband celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and attended their grandson’s high school graduation this year. Because of her transplants, she has also been able to return to the things she loves: cooking, baking, spending time with her family, and traveling. While she’s excited to visit new places, Pittsburgh will always be a special place for her.
In the first few years after her liver transplant, Linda visited UPMC every six months. Now, she comes once a year for both her kidney and liver check-ups. After all this time, Linda still can’t believe the staff at UPMC cares so much about her. “They stop and ask how I’m doing. It’s just such a good feeling,” she says.
“People I run into are always saying, ‘Linda, you look amazing!’” she continues. “I can’t thank God enough for bringing me through all that.”