Monday, February 28, 2005

Never Too Late To Hear From Friends...

Folks -
The post and the magic of e-mail and blogs have brought no end of joy recently.

In the past few days, several notes have poured in from good friends, surprisingly, all sounding a similar theme. They start off with an apology and an admission of embarrassment for not writing sooner. And I reply to each with the same words - It's never too late to hear from friends. And there's nothing to be embarrassed about.

I've been there myself. Good news is easy to react quickly to and, in some ways, so is bad news. God forbid, if there's a death in the family it may come as a shock, but the reaction comes in a regimented manner. A sympathy wake...a funeral.

It's those in-between times when it's unclear what the rules are. In my case, as I awaited the liver transplant, it was sometimes confusing as to what the day-to-day situation was. The whole thing was pretty damn spooky to us and we lived it. I can't imagine what it was like for you folks watching anxiously from the outside.

Nobody wants to interfere or call at the wrong time - that's understandable. And the whole matter gets cloudier as the distance either in physical miles or in months, grows.

But don't think that because you weren't one of our front-line angels, who watched the kids, ran errands, shoveled snow, cooked a meal for us, or contributed to the Save David Foundation that we don't know that you're out there for us.

Last weekend, Nancy and Alex and Tasha and I made a stealth trip to Harrisburg, PA for a surprise 80th birthday party for her marvelous Dad, Tom Fleming.

I've scarcely seen Nancy's elegant Mom, Ginny, look prouder and happier than in having pulled off this wonderful event, keeping the surprise intact even as she conspired for weeks with her kids, who were coming in from all over the country.

Tom has said to me and Nancy over the past many months that he and Ginny always will be there to help us out - ''that's what families do'' - and indeed Nancy's family and mine have given so much love and support to us.

In impromptu remarks, Nancy toasted her Dad by saying that not only did he and her Mom live out the notion that ''we're always there for you'' - they also instilled it in their children, now scattered across the country.

We may not see each other, or talk to each other for months, or even years, Nancy told her siblings, but ''we know we're always there for each other.''

That applies to friends, too. We know your prayers are being heard and you're in our thoughts as we are in your's.


Saturday, February 26, 2005

Hey Joe - 8 Years Gone, Never Forgotten

It was another one of those frosty February days we'd like to forget.

Eight years ago today my brother Joe passed away. We had just celebrated his 44th birthday less than a month earlier. He was struck down suddenly by bacterial meningitis and doctors said he had no prospect for recovery.

It was an excruciatingly tough, but unanimous family decision to remove him from life support about two weeks after the illness hit. We knew Joe's love of life and all that it involved - and we knew that he knew it was time for him to go.

We spent the earlier part of that day in 1997 saying goodbye to Joe and gathering up the totems (my jar of colorful feathers collected from my yard) that we brought to bring a little bit of beloved nature to him.

And Joe took the time to say goodbye too, in his own way.

Moments before we received a telephone call from hospital staff that Joe had passed away, odd events were playing out as several family members sat around my sister Kathy's dining room table.

The doorbell at the rarely used front door rang. When someone went to answer it, no one was there. The house was fairly isolated. No one could have rang the bell and fled or hidden so quickly.

Next, the overhead lights dimmed to the point of nearly going out before returning to full strength. Then the phone rang. It was the hospital with the sad, but unsurprising news. My wife Nancy looked at her watch to check the time. Her watch had stopped just minutes earlier - the same time that, we believe, Joe was sending us his goodbye signals.

It's impossible for me to believe that Alexander, who will be 7 in May, had never met his Uncle Joe. I often stop myself from saying to Alex ''remember when Uncle Joe...''

We gave Alex the middle name of Joseph and he's inherited a love of nature and thirst for knowledge that are reminiscent of Joe. I found myself evoking Joe's memory the other day when Alex and I came across what we were told was the second biggest American Sycamore tree in NJ - dating back to 100 years before the Declaration of Independence. Joe had discovered the tallest tree in NJ on one of his many treks all over the state.

As a tribute to Joe, we joined friends in planting a grove of oak, beech and tulip poplars in his beloved Trenton oasis, Cadwalader Park. Many others have been planted around the country and the world.

There's one thing I plan to do on this busy Saturday marking this sad occasion: Hug a tree. For Joe. You do it, too. I guarantee he'll feel it - and you'll feel it back.


(Below is the eulogy I wrote and delivered at Joe's funeral mass)

Let me tell you about my Friend Joe…

I’m proud to call Joe my Brother. I’m even prouder to call him my friend.

As a big brother, Joe taught me – not only some of his favorite tricks – like how to juggle – but so much more.

My heart is bigger from just knowing Joe and feeling his love.

Joe wasn’t just unique. His uniqueness was unique.

Joe wasn’t a rich man, but he was rich in spirit.

He didn’t need a house in the country to appreciate nature. He found peace and harmony and beauty in urban oases.

Joe had such a love, respect and passion for nature from an early age.

Our Mom recalled the other day how Joe, then about 4 years old, was seen playing in the backyard garden.

Asked what he was doing, Joe held up a feather and said he was planting it. He wanted to grow a duck.

Joe truly believed, as naturalist John Muir wrote, “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest.”

Joe was a true Renaissance Man – on his own terms.

He took as much pleasure in reading the works of Homer as he did in laughing at the antics of Homer Simpson.

He took as much pleasure from the most mind-numbing puzzles and cross words as from teaching his young nephews the words to a favorite song.

He took as much pleasure in reading the scientific and social works of Buckminster Fuller as in the chirps and companionship of his parakeet, Buckminster Feather, aka Buck.

But Joe took the most pleasure from the environment and in sharing its beauty with others.

I think Joe loved his job as a tree climber for the City of Trenton – proudly called Tree City USA – because it allowed him to serve both man and nature.

Many of us have remarked at some time when we’ve wondered about an unusual bird or leaf – “Let’s ask Joe, he’ll know what it is.’’

Joe, every breeze, every budding flower, every turning leaf and every found feather will continue to bring your spirit to us.

To say Joe was a “do-er” is a faulty understatement.

Joe wasn’t an armchair activist – and not just because he didn’t own an armchair.

His attendance record at public meetings on key environmental issues was nearly better than that of the government decision-makers themselves.

Joe was a tree-hugger and proud of it – but he was also a tree-planter – and a defender and supporter of the Earth, God’s gift to all of us.

Joe didn’t just march to the beat of a different drummer. He walked on stilts to it.

Whether with myself and our friends in the Mushroom Players, in the Clark Kent Troupe, or with scores of colleagues in Del-Aware, Joe was a tireless campaigner for the causes he believed in.

A lover of puns – the worse the better – Joe would say he wasn’t only a Mushroom Player – he was a fun guy, too!

In guerrilla-theater activism, Joe strapped on stilts and a pig nose and protested against the corporate swine responsible for the Valdez oil spill.

Dressed as George Washington and followed by loyal legions, Joe waded across the shallow Delaware River to show how callous corporate decisions were threatening the shad who liver there.

And in an incredibly generous, spiritual undertaking 15 years ago, Joe and a friend gave up all their possessions and walked 2,500 miles from New Jersey to the Four Corners – where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah touch – to publicize the plight of the Hopi and Navajo who were being thrown off their sacred lands.

Our family jokingly gave him the Indian name Walking Bird for that endeavor, but our kidding didn’t eclipse the tremendous respect we had for his devotion to the trip.

On a personal note, I’ll never forget the morning of my wedding day 5-1/2 years ago when Joe and I rose before the sun – he out of habit and me out of nervousness.

It was drizzling and I was worried that the rain would disrupt the day.

On Joe’s whim, we drove for an hour around suburban Harrisburg. He said we would chase away the cold morning rain. It worked.

To be sure, Joe, like the rest of us, wasn’t without his demons.

But he was a brave, strong and sincerely dedicated man.

We celebrated Joe’s 44th birthday just a few short weeks ago and in true Joe tradition, it turned into an event not about him – but a celebration of his joy in spending time with two of our wonderful nephews, Matthew and Brendan.

Our sister Kathy says Joe was more like a big brother to her boys than an uncle 5 times their age.

The boys have several uncles, but to them there’s only one UNC – Uncle Joe.

After a day of bowling and laughing and cheering Brendan at his hockey match, Joe and I said “Good Bye’’ in his traditional way.

We locked in a big bear hug and Joe looked me in the eye and just said: “Peace.’’

Peace to you, Brother Joe, from all of us who love you. You’ve made the world a better place.

Joe, you keep the night light on inside the Birdhouse in your soul for us…

We’ll do the same for you.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

More Walks, Fewer Pills...

Folks - In between snowstorms, Alex and I have restarted our regular hikes in the woods. In the past few days, we've encountered an American Sycamore tree that's 100 years older than the U.S., and - prompted by our search for a chatty woodpecker - saw what we called the ''rainbow cloud,'' a puffy cottonball in the sky which at that moment was refracting light and appearing in prism stripes.

I'm literally taking further steps down the road to recovery and my doctors are cutting back further on the meds I have to take.

I'm still on 10 different meds, for a total of 23 pills at five different times each day. But because my bloodwork has continued to show good results, doctors have cut down on need for Prograf, a major drug to prevent rejection of the liver. I'll probably be taking it for the rest of my life, but I'm down to 5 mg per day from 8 mg when I left the hospital on Dec. 30.

I snapped up on the Internet a cheap and nifty watch with five alarms so I can be sure to take my meds on time. It also allows me to track moon phases, tides and time yacht races. I feel like I earned an advanced engineering degree in programming it for about an hour today. But the widely anticipated 6 PM bleeps made it all worth the effort.

There go the bleeps again... 8 PM and all is well...time for my nighttime steroids...

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Happy Anniversary

Dear Friends,
You may have noticed that I haven't blogged since
David came home from the hospital. David is the master
of words and this is his story to tell, so I thought
it best to leave it to him. I think you will agree he
has done an amazing job of recounting his experiences,
expressing his thoughts and guiding us through the
emotions (and scars) that a liver transplant recipient
has. I am so proud of him. I look at him everyday
and I am amazed at the person I see. His strength,
his humor, his passion, his brillance and his love of
this life is so incredible. As sick as he was, he
never lost faith, never questioned the ability of the
doctors to find him a liver, never stopped talking
about what we would do when he was better, never let a
day go by in the hospital without kissing the pictures
of Alex and Tasha.

David is an amazing man to be sure. He is still
healing but his dreams have never waned. He is
destined to do great things with this renewed life
even if it is simply to continue being a loving
husband and father. I love you dearly, sweetheart,
and I want the world to know.
Happy 2 month Anniversary
Love Nancy

Do you Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Mail - Find what you need with new enhanced search.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Starting Month # 3...Never Forgetting...

Folks -

Today is the start of my third month with my new transplanted liver, whom I call ''Dora.'' I feel so strong today it's amazing to me that two months ago my life was in jeopardy.

Not a day goes by when I don't say a prayer of thanks and call for blessings for my anonymous donor and her family.

When my family and I celebrate today - with a modest toast of sparkling cider - we won't forget that as we commemorate the two-month mark since my Dec. 19 surgery, another family is reminded today of the loss that day of a special woman, passing on at the much-too-early age of 53.

The gift of life from this incredible family is the only thing that allows me to still walk the earth today. It's likely that many of this wonderful woman's organs, perhaps tissue, bone and corneas, have renewed the lives of maybe a dozen others in the same way that I have been reborn.

I can only wish that the collective heartfelt thanks from us all can offer solace to the donor's family.

My thought-for-the-day calendar says it better than I can:
''Some people make the world more special just by being in it.''

I don't want to sound corny, but, given my second chance in life, I struggle each day about what I can do to make the world a more special place. Usually, I fall flat on my face. But sometimes I can at least feel that I'm inching the ball forward.

On Jan. 19, one month after my transplant, I acted on my oft-spoken intention and signed up for real to be an organ donor myself. I challenged readers of this blog to do likewise. I'm happy to say a few folks followed my lead, but we barely made a dent in the ever-growing organ-donor shortage.

To mark the two-month period, I've written to some New Jersey legislators asking for changes in a bill to give tax relief to residents who become living organ donors.

I also made a suggestion that came to me as I recovered from surgery in the hospital. To promote the tremendous need for organ donations, I suggested that NJ State Troopers be required to hand out with each ticket they write a separate piece of paper promoting the cause of organ donation. The paper - in English and Spanish - would detail how to go about signing on to the cause. Seems to me it can only help and it can't cost that much.

Legislation was introduced last May (Senate bill S1495 and companion Assembly bill A2953) in Trenton to allow NJ resident taxpayers to deduct up to $10,000 of unreimbursed costs associated with being a living organ donor. The organ receipient's insurance covers the full cost of testing and the surgery for donors. It's illegal for donors to be compensated for their organs. But this bill allows a break from state taxes for such costs as travel, lodging and lost wages on a once-in-a-lifetime basis.

I think this is a great idea and should remove an impediment for would-be donors, who quite rightly shouldn't have to take on financial hardship while giving the gift of life.

When I learned last November that I needed a life-saving liver transplant as soon as possible, my efforts were put into finding a living donor, to avoid being placed on a huge waiting list for an organ from a deceased donor. Along the way, I learned a lot about the process and that's why I'm calling for changes in the pending legislation.

Doctors at NYU Medical Center told me that, on average, they put about six potential living donors through rigorous two-day physical examinations before they find an acceptable donor. That means for each living donor transplant, there are potentially five people who will have incurred significant ancillary expenses, but wouldn't qualify for the tax break as the legislation is currently written.

What's more, no NJ hospital does living donor transplants for livers - meaning, at a minimum, there's an immediate cost of traveling out of state for potential donors.

I urge each of you reading this to contact your NJ legislators in support of my proposed change and push for them to endorse an amended bill. For those of you living elsewhere, similar bills are pending in other state legislatures - track down your elected officials and get them on board for this noble cause. Urge them to support the notion of state police spreading the word on organ donation, too.

In my situation, many fabulous people - both good friends and relative strangers - pledged to be living donors. I'm still stunned by this amazing gesture and, am most grateful to those, who in the course of consulting their doctors about being a donor, uncovered their own medical problems and had them treated. Had they not stepped forward on my behalf, their conditions may have gone unnoticed.

Of course, my ailing liver rapidly deteriorated in early December making me too sick to be eligible to receive the partial liver that a living donor would supply. That news turned my world upside down initially, but the seriousness of me illness sent me to the top of the recipient list and into an orbit where I eventually rendezvoused with my precious donor who I honor today and everyday.

For her, her family, for my wife, Nancy, and our little ones Alex and Tasha, and for all of those who've supported us throughout, I'll keep trying to push ahead on the issue of raising organ donor/liver disease awareness.

It's the best way to honor my sweet donor's memory, and with your help, maybe we can make the world more special for others in need.


How to be a donor:
How to e-mail your NJ legislator:

"Don't take your organs to heaven...heaven knows we need them here"

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Just Can't Stay Away From Those Doctors...

After being told last week that I didn't need to return to the NYU Transplant Center for a check-up for a full month, guess where I ended up today?

Seems I just can't stay away from the doctors for too long.

Dr. Thomas Diflo, who performed my Dec. 19 liver transplant, gave me a clean bill of health today after an examination and review of Monday's bloodwork.

I came in just to be sure after feeling a bit funny in the abdomen at around 6 P.M. Tuesday. I felt what I can only describe as tightness, rather than pain, in my stomach area. It was enough to put me off eating my POLLO EN MOLE POBLANO (chicken in spicy chocolate sauce), so you know it was somewhat serious.

Days spent wrangling over issues of Social Security payments and Long-Term Disability matters no doubt didn't help my condition - going against doctors' orders to rest.

Leaving the dinner uneaten Tuesday night, I laid down on the couch to rest and soon felt that the feeling passed into my groin. It was the hernia, which first appeared while I was waiting for an MRI at Beth Israel in early November, playing up again. Now, it looked like it was hiding a golf ball under my skin and it hurt to sit down. Nancy called the Transplant Center which consulted Dr. Diflo and advised Tylenol as the immediate treatment. I went to bed around 9 P.M. (about three hours earlier than normal) and felt normal at around 11 P.M.

So, after I get my T-tube out and my meds are reduced further, I get to look forward to a visit to the hernia doctor this spring.

For now, I'm going to dig in to that chocolate-covered chicken...
maybe I'll have an apple with keep those doctors at bay.

NY Times Writes On Organ Donation - David Replies

Folks - Everyone interested in the issue of organ donation should make it a point to read Marc Santora's article on the front page (B1) on the Metro section of the New York Times today (on line at free registration required).

The story "Linked Forever by the Ultimate Gift" tells the tale of how the lungs of a 44-year-old woman who immigrated from Barbados ended up saving the life of a 58-year-old woman who had been suffering from emphysema.

Unfortunately, the on-line version of the story doesn't include all of the photos which appear in the printed edition. But the letter to the editor which I submitted (below) should still make sense.

Information on organ donation: and

To the Editor:

Marc Santora's article (''Linked Forever by the Ultimate Gift,'' B1, Feb. 16, 2005) does a service in shining light on the issue of the urgent need for organ donations.

I am alive to write this today only through the amazing gift of life - a liver - from a 53-year-old woman who died in the Bronx and who remains anonymous to me. Without the Dec. 19 transplant, doctors at New York University Medical Center tell me, I wouldn't have survived to see Christmas Day.

Not a day goes by when I don't pray for the deceased donor and her family. Like many who have gone through this, I didn't give much thought to the issue of organ donation before I became ill. Now I, and many of those closest to me, have signed up to be organ donors.

Perhaps the most useful lessons from Santora's story are those told silently in James Estrin's photographs. The lung receipient, Carol Coll, is a white woman walking the Earth today because she now breathes through the lungs of Maxine Watson, a black woman from Barbados. Our internal organs pay no heed to matters of race, color, creed or national origin.

The portrait of Petra Watson grieving at her mother's funeral, too, carries a subtle, myth-exploding message. The casket is open, no doubt providing the Watson family with a fuller feeling of closure in saying goodbye. At the same time, it assures families of would-be donors that organ-removal procedures are done with care, compassion and dignity, to allow for open-casket viewings.


David Bird
1839 Long Hill Road
Millington, NJ 07946

Friday, February 11, 2005

''Thanks For The Blessing, Mom...''

“February made me shiver with every paper I deliver. Bad news on the doorstep…”
- Don McLean, American Pie

February hasn't been a great month for us in recent years.

My mom, Anna McLernon Bird, died a year ago today, just a month before her 85th birthday. I was away on assignment, covering a meeting of the OPEC oil exporters group in Algeria at the time. It was a tough flight home alone, made even longer by the connection through Rome, which required an overnight stay at an airport hotel. Mom had suffered a heart attack and seemed to be doing well initially and we had nice visits with her before she left us.

Eight years earlier, on Feb. 26, 1997, one of my three brothers, Joe, died after a sudden illness. We had just celebrated his 44th birthday for weeks earlier.

At Christmas, as I recovered in the hospital from my liver transplant in the company of wife Nancy and Kathy, one of my two sisters, Nancy got a sudden chill and announced that Mom had just spoken to her.

In a moment of frustration over my phantom lingering hepatitis last summer, Nancy joked that she thought Mom had put a curse on us. When Mom spoke to her from the beyond at Christmastime, her words were brief: ''It was a blessing, not a curse,'' Nancy quoted her as saying.

We all three wept at Nancy's encounter.

A few minutes later I said what seemed like the only thing to say at the time: ''Thanks for the blessing, Mom.''

We fully believed Nancy's experience. This wasn't the first time something like this happened to us. Moments before we received a telephone call from hospital staff that Joe had passed away, odd events were playing out as several family members sat around Kathy's dining room table.

The doorbell at the rarely used front door rang. When someone went to answer it, no one was there. The house was fairly isolated. No one could have rang the bell and fled or hidden so quickly. Then the overhead lights dimmed to the point of nearly going out before returning to full strength. Then the phone rang and it was the hospital with the sad news. Nancy looked at her watch to check the time. Her watch had stopped just minutes earlier - the same time that, we believe, Joe was sending us his goodbye signals.

Mom, you're in our thoughts and prayers constantly. And we thank you for the blessings...

Below is the eulogy I wrote and delivered at Mom's funeral mass at Our Lady of Sorrows church in Mercerville, NJ.

Auburn hair.
Blue eyes.
Fresh complexion
Three feet tall.
Three years old.
Occupation: Child.

That starkly beautiful description is how Mom (nee Anna McLernon) was officially classified on her arrival at Ellis Island after a harrowing nine-day voyage on the SS Adriatic, arriving from Liverpool on August 14, 1922.

Her parents carried $240 with them – the equivalent of $2,500 today – to set up a new life for her and her brother, then just 10 months old.

(Sailing on the sister ship to the Titanic)…They nearly never made it across. A buildup of coal gas caused a massive explosion below deck. Seeing the bodies of crewmembers in the water sparked fears of a mutiny. But the ship limped into port.

When Mom told the story, she recalls her own mothers’ memory of having to prompt her to overcome shyness and speak to the immigration officer.

Failure to do so would she her labeled a mute and marked her for deportation.

She started talking then, the story goes – and never stopped.

While the physical description of the wee Irish tot from Belfast may seem hard to reckon some eight decades later, the underlying traits of the classic immigrant tale of America’s greatness are unmistakable.

Everything Mom did was to provide the best possible for her family. Hard work and scrimping to provide a Catholic school education beginning right next door here.

And never forgetting to send in fresh cuttings for the nuns when the lilacs were in bloom.

Mom instilled a strong work ethic, spurring us to summer jobs and responsibilities early on.

She and Dad raised six kids, and with an unbending strength, she suffered the pain of burying him, her only brother James, and two sons Joe and Wally well before their time.

Mom always managed to find the freshest vegetables, yet the occasional instant mashed potato flakes revealed the incredible struggle of trying to juggle a full-time job and house full of kids.

There weren’t big birthday parties, but that only made the events there were even more special.

4th of Julys with (our cousins) the McLernons in an always-crowded swimming pool.

Mom even piled a few of us in the car for a long ride to Disney World with Cousin Char and took on the scary Space Mountain roller coaster – though she said she’d wear rubber pants, if she were to do it again.

She regaled us tales of her youth – going with the gang to watch the Trenton Giants play at old Dunn Field. She used to see Willie Mays play there.

The Say Hey kid, Mom?

She even got his autograph on a baseball - threw it away, though, ‘cause she never thought he’d amount to anything.

Say Hey, Mom.

Well, so she wasn’t a good baseball scout.

But she had an unassailable sense of goodness.

In June 1968, when Bobby Kennedy was struck down, Mom bundled us kids into the car and drove at night to New York City to wait for hours to pass in front of his casket - lying in state in St. Patrick’s Cathedral – because it was important to honor such a man and what he stood for.

The sight of all those others waiting, just like us – showed that we shouldn’t give up hope in the face of such a tragedy.

With six kids, there was always something going on in our house.

Wally wanted badly to join the Air Force and then badly wanted out; Maryann moved to Paris; Denny was getting married, Kathy joked about moving to Alaska to paint the pipeline and Joe was walking across America to raise public awareness of the plight of the Hopi Indians.

“You’ll never believe what your brother is doing now.’’

When it came my turn to walk away from a great job to instead roam the Greek Islands and the Sahara Desert, Mom barely batted an eyelash.

You knew she’d be fretting every minute – an echo of her years earlier practice of keeping a close ear to the police scanner if one of us wasn’t home on time – but after six kids, there wasn’t much that was going to surprise her anymore.

Mom wasn’t the type to hand out much direct praise to us kids – that just wasn’t her style – but she proudly kept her friends and neighbors up to date on what we were up to.

I’ve never seen her happier, though, then with her nine grandchildren.

She never became a great-grandmother, but she was a great grandmother.

We’d always joke that it was impossible to go anywhere with Mom without her running into a friend or acquaintance – “everywhere she goes, she sees somebody she knows…”

Now, with Mom moving to her eternal reward in Heaven, the pain of our loss is eased with the knowing that she’s in the company of family and friends.

Thank you for everything Mom.
We love you.
Rest in peace.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Further On Up The Road...

Folks -

Question: What do a groundhog and a transplant surgeon have in common?
Answer: They're both talking about six more weeks.

While the shadow-scared groundhog warns of six more weeks of winter weather, the surgeon says my ''T-tube'' - the last souvenir from my Dec. 19 liver transplant - should only have to stay in for six more weeks.

The ''T-tube'' resembles a spaghetti strand or a broken rubber band which protrudes from the right side of my abdomen and extends down into the bile duct of the liver. It's more of a fire escape than anything else - only there for emergencies in case doctors need to check the fluids in my liver.

Dr. Lewis Teperman, head of the NYU Transplant Center, says my latest bloodwork numbers ''look great.'' He further reduced some medication and told me I'm doing so well I don't need to come back for a check-up for a month. (''Get out of here, we need this room for sick people,'' he quipped at Monday's examination.)

When I see him again early next month, he'll schedule the procedure to remove the ''T-tube.'' The procedure is done by NYU's radiology department and may involve a very brief hospital stay. A dye is injected into the abdomen to make sure that there isn't any bile floating around anywhere it shouldn't be. Wayward bile can cause infection. Sometimes, the actual removal of the tube can cause a bile release. In about 10% of cases, the patients ends up in the hospital on a regime of antibiotics until the infection clears up.

So, as I move further on up the road to recovery, I'm counting the days till spring. It can't be far off - the Red Sox website carries a countdown clock showing up-to-the-second timing of how soon pitchers and catchers will report for spring training in Fort Myers, my old Florida stomping ground. (8 days 4 hours 4 minutes 19 seconds...)

And I'm counting the days to the end of the T-tube...
...and spaghetti will never quite be the same for me again.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A Letter Of Thanks To The Long Hill Community - part 1

Folks - the following appears in the latest edition of the Echoes-Sentinel weekly newspaper as a letter to the editor.

Liver recipient grateful to Long Hill community


When my wife, Nancy, and I moved to Millington in 1996, we had definite ideas of what we wanted in a house. She wanted a front porch. I wanted a fireplace and to be close to a train station.

In the eight years that we’ve lived here, we’ve found much more than the ideal house for ourselves and our children, Alexander, 6, and Natasha, 3.

We’ve truly found a home.

The past six months have been extremely difficult for us. But, they would have been impossible to bear without the incredible support and boundless kindness afforded us by our neighbors and the community at large.

In late July 2004, I skipped one of my favorite events of the year - the Sunny Slope Block Party – because I wasn’t feeling well. That day was the start of a health crisis for me that resulted – against overwhelming odds – in my receiving a critical, life-saving liver transplant on Dec. 19.

The fine surgeons at the New York University (NYU) Transplant Center tell me I wouldn’t have survived to see Christmas without getting a new liver.

But, no doubt helped by the prayers ringing out from hundreds of Long Hill homes and area houses of worship of all denominations, my Christmas miracle came early.

While I owe my life to an anonymous 53-year-old woman from the Bronx, N.Y., who signed up to be an organ donor upon her death, my family and I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Long Hill community.

By the grace of God, I was released from the hospital on Dec. 30, in time to welcome the New Year at home in the warm embrace of my family and friends.

Of course, it was fitting that neighborhood “elves” had snuck over before my return and decorated the porch with “Welcome Home’’ balloons and yellow ribbons.

It was but one of the many acts of kindness afforded Nancy and the children during my more than three weeks of confinement in the hospital in New York.

There are so many individuals to thank, I won’t try to name them all here for fear that I’ll unintentionally leave someone out.

But allow me to recount some unselfish acts that helped us out considerably and, frankly, have overwhelmed us.

When it became clear just before Thanksgiving that I was in need of an emergency liver transplant, many neighbors immediately inquired about becoming a donor. Friends helped set up a Web site, to spread the word about my condition and we established the Save David Foundation to help us cover costs not covered by insurance. Eventually, we’ll turn the foundation’s resources to providing similar help for other families in need and use it to fund research into liver disease.

A crew of dads fanned out in our yard with rakes to bag up leaves and worked in the basement to quickly install a new floor. Both acts helped make our Thanksgiving with my large family an even more pleasant time.

Neighbors helped Nancy by doing food shopping, laundry and baby-sitting and there seemed to be no end of the cornucopia of delicacies brought to our door by a stream of thoughtful friends.


A Letter Of Thanks To The Long Hill Community - part 2

In early December, I became ill at home and Nancy called 911. Without hesitation, neighbors came to collect Alex and Tasha and see that they were cared for overnight. A Long Hill Township First Aid Squad ambulance, along with local police, arrived instantly at our house. I couldn’t have asked for a more professional team to rush me to Overlook Hospital in Summit.

There, in what would be the first of two times in two months (CORRECTION: weeks), doctors saved my life.

From Overlook, I was transferred to NYU, which required Nancy to make the long and costly daily trip into the city. It’s a tribute to her strength and character that she, and other members of our families, was able to juggle everything that life had handed her at that moment.

But, it’s no stretch to say she couldn’t have gotten through it without the support of friends, neighbors and the community at large. Our efforts throughout – and those of our neighbors – was to try to keep life as normal as possible for the kids while I was in the hospital.

A friend who owns a printing shop turned over his presses to us so that fliers about my search for a liver donor could be made. Impromptu fundraisers were held at the Community Center and the Millington Fire Station in conjunction with Santa’s visits.

Neighbors surprised us with an anonymous gift certificate for a Christmas tree and then were on hand to help get it into the house and decorate the porch.

With Nancy too busy to run the usual Christmastime errands, neighbors pitched in here, too, offering, against our insistence, to pick up the tab for some presents, too.

Blue and red magnetic car ribbons were made up to draw attention to my situation and promote the issue of fighting liver disease. Friends and neighbors devoted hours to selling them outside local businesses, while other shops graciously agreed to set up donation jars on their counters.

Prayer cards were printed and an unbroken circle of support grew throughout the township and beyond.

The Boy Scouts, of which Alex is a proud member, came by the house to sing Christmas carols one night. Strangers who live in the township have telephoned to share their encouraging stories of returning to a normal, thriving life after liver transplants.

My heart was lifted by Nancy’s visits, especially when she brought e-mails and photos from the neighbors and more so by well-wishing drawings from Alex, Tasha and Alex’s first grade classmates at Gillette School.

Someone came up with the brilliant idea of putting out a white tablecloth for local children to draw pictures and write encouraging, sometimes silly, messages on. This very moving, thoughtful gift now adorns our dining room table and not a day goes by when I don’t feel tears welling up when I look at it.

The Echoes-Sentinel played an important role, as any true community newspaper should, in both promoting my need for a liver and following up with the joyous news that I’m back home with a new lease on life.

To this day, the heart-warming assistance we’ve received hasn’t let up. A major fundraiser is in the planning stages; neighbors with snow shovels and snow blowers have cleared our walkways and thoughtful neighbors, often friends of friends of friends, are always turning up with a meal – never forgetting the cookies for dessert.

Nearly one-and-a-half months after my transplant, I’m delighted to say things are going as well as can be expected on the health front. I’m still a little tired and weak and limited in my range of activities.

I am well aware that I beat the odds in getting my liver transplant. The most common reason people with my condition don’t survive is the lack of available organs.

As of this writing, UNOS, the United Network For Organ Sharing, reports there are currently 87,291 people waiting for organ transplants. On Jan. 2, two weeks after I had my transplant, 17,313 people across the U.S. remained on the list awaiting livers.

Every 14 minutes a new name is added to the waiting list for organ transplants and every year, an estimated 6,000 people die waiting for organ transplants. (Information on becoming and organ donor can be found at and on the Internet.

I hope to return in mid-Spring to my job as a journalist analyzing the international oil market for Dow Jones Newswires in Jersey City. But in the meantime, it will be tough sledding.

Because of the length of my illness, I’ll soon be switching to long-term disability, meaning that my income will be limited to just 60 percent of my normal salary until I get back to work.

As my recovery continues, it is heartening for my family to know we continue to have the support of neighbors, friends and the community. And we look forward to the day when we can repay all of your kindnesses.

For now, we’re constantly reminded we’ve found not just the house of our dreams here in Millington, but our home as well.