Personal Spotlight: James T. McCullough

On August 8, 2004, Jim McCullough became the recipient of a donor liver, and underwent a successful liver transplant under the direction of Dr. R. Patrick Wood and his colleagues, at St. Luke''s Episcopal Hospital. This was the first day of Jim''s new lease on life.

Jim McCullough''s story began in 1997 when I met him for the first time in consultation to further evaluate his hepatitis C. In 1980, he underwent open-heart surgery and was exposed to over 20 units of blood-one or more of which were contaminated with the hepatitis C virus. At that time, hepatitis C was an unknown threat. He remained symptom free for more that 15 years, unaware of the silent infection that was slowly destroying his liver. Shortly before we met, he had experienced his first complication related to hepatitis C. He developed gastrointestinal bleeding related to cirrhosis of the liver, which is scarring that replaces healthy liver tissue.

Because Jim was still in the early stages of the cirrhosis, and he was relatively free of symptoms, it was elected to treat the hepatitis C infection with interferon and ribavirin. He tolerated the medications very well, despite the known side effects, and successfully cleared the virus. He remained virus free for several months before finding out that he had relapsed. Throughout the treatments and related disappointments, Jim was the exemplary patient, never complaining and remaining optimistic. Over the next several years, he unfortunately experienced a gradual worsening of his liver disease, and suffered nearly every possible complication a patient with hepatitis C and cirrhosis could experience. There were multiple admissions to St. Luke''s for torrential gastrointestinal bleeding, the development of progressive fatigue, a stroke, muscle wasting, and the worst complication of all-liver cancer.

It turned out that his liver cancer was too extensive to consider a surgical cure. He received multiple doses of chemotherapy on a regular basis over a two-year period. Despite these serious setbacks, Jim and his family remained optimistic. Numerous x-rays of his liver failed to show any cancer remaining in his liver. After many years of constant therapy in one form or another, it was decided to consider liver transplantation.

The kindness of that organ donor family has allowed Jim to regain his health, and continue to share his many talents and goodness. Organ donation profoundly changes the life of both the recipient and their family. After all we have shared together, Jim McCullough is not only a patient of mine, but someone I consider a friend.

Joseph S. Galati, M.D.