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Leetsdale man recovering from double transplant surgery

| Monday, March 20, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Brent Lauffer, 38, stands for a photo inside his Leetsdale home Thursday, March 9, 2017. Lauffer recently was released from the Cleveland Clinic Transplant Center and is now at home recovering after a liver and kidney transplant in January.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Brent Lauffer, 38, receives a kiss from his dog as he sits for a photo inside his Leetsdale home Thursday, March 9, 2017. Lauffer was recently released from the Cleveland Clinic Transplant Center and is now at home recovering after a liver and kidney transplant in January. He was diagnosed as a teenager with congenital hepatic fibrosis and said this is the best he's ever felt.

Along with his new liver and new kidney, Brent Lauffer has a new appetite.

The Leetsdale man said he is enjoying the opportunity to sit down to a meal of spaghetti with sauce and garlic bread as he moves toward a normal life now that transplants have given him a disease-free liver and a properly working kidney.

He received his liver Jan. 20 and his kidney Jan. 21 at the Cleveland Clinic.

The organs came from the same donor, but because his potassium level increased, doctors had to close him up after the liver surgery, wait 12 hours for the issue to resolve and then reopen him for the kidney transplant, Lauffer said.

He said he had been moving up in priority for transplants as his health worsened, and the few days before he got the call to head to the Cleveland Clinic, he felt the sickest he ever had.

He knew he was getting closer to the top of the list but didn't expect to be called for the transplants quite as soon as he was, he said.

“I was actually getting ready for bed and about to watch one of my favorite shows (“Alaskan Bush People),” Lauffer said.

Instead of going bed, Lauffer and his parents headed to Cleveland.

“We'd been waiting for years for it. To have it happen so fast, it was true miracle,” he said.

The trip wasn't particularly hectic, Lauffer's father, Doug Lauffer said.

“We had our suitcases packed and everything, according to their protocol,” he said.

Doug Lauffer, said he didn't feel pressure making the two-hour-and-15-minute drive to Cleveland.

“I was delighted. It was surreal,” he said, noting that he and his wife had known this day was coming for almost 20 years.

Brent Lauffer, 38, was diagnosed with a genetic liver disorder — congenital hepatic fibrosis — when he was 19 and told he someday would need a liver transplant. The deterioration of his liver caused his kidneys to start failing about a year and a half ago.

He came home from the Cleveland Clinic on March 2.

Lauffer said he noticed a difference the minute he woke up from surgery. Before, he typically woke up feeling nauseated and as if he had the flu.

“I noticed when I work up, that feeling was gone,” he said.

Because of problems with vomiting, abdominal pain and cramps before he had the transplants, Lauffer had problems keeping food down and mostly survived on toast and Boost nutritional drinks, he said.

“For years, I ate like a bird,” he said.

He stopped himself from eating what was on his plate, he said, because he knew he wouldn't be able to keep it down.

“I spent so much time in the bathroom pre-op,” he said.

Now, in addition to that spaghetti dinner, he can have foods such as steak, ice cream, bowls of cereal and bacon. “I love bacon,” he said enthusiastically.

Brent Lauffer grew up in the Sewickley area but moved out of state as an adult. He had been a dock manager for a FedEx SmartPost facility in Atlanta but had to move back to this area about three-and-a-half years ago to be close to his parents because of his health problems. Eventually, he had to move into their Leetsdale home.

Doug Lauffer, 63, has taken a leave from his job as a computer science and philosophy professor at the Community College of Beaver County to be his son's full-time caregiver while he recovers. Having mom Vicki, 62, in the family helps, though, because the health coach/educator with Community Health Services in Beaver is a registered nurse.

Brent Lauffer said it will be about a year before he will be able to re-enter the work force.

Now, his work is recovery from the surgery and recovering what he lost when his organs were failing.

“I can walk stairs without being out of breath because there's no longer water built up around my lungs,” Lauffer said.

“It feels like I have a new body, which I kind of do.”

He also feels like he has a new mind, he said.

“My mind is a lot stronger than it was. I'm not as forgetful,” he said.

Spikes in ammonia in his system caused by his liver's inability to process it damaged his brain, he said.

“Luckily, I still have a lot of my skills. I lost some long-term memory,” he said.

Now, he said, his ability to remember things such as names, places and times has improved.

But there still are challenges ahead, including financial ones.

Transplant patients have to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives, which often aren't covered by insurance. Lauffer said one of his medicines costs $3,000 a month.

The family continues to raise money through Help Hope Live, a nonprofit organization that assists with fundraising campaigns for major medical expenses and allows people to make tax-deductible contributions.

Lauffer said his donor was a man in his 50s whose organs went to more than one person.

The Lauffers said they plan to do what they can to promote organ donation.

“We're just thankful that people are organ donors,” Vicki Lauffer said.

Madelyn Dinnerstein is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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