Giving is her response for the gift of life


Susan Paine makes her way along the half-mara?thon course at the Omaha Marathon on Sept. 28. Paine walked the 13.1 miles to honor Shelly, the young donor whose liver she received in 2006.

Except for the generosity of someone she will never meet, Susan Paine of Hillsboro likely would not be alive today, much less celebrating her accomplishment of walking a full half-marathon a little more than a month ago.

Paine, now 59, received a life-giving liver transplant in 2006 and dedicated her 13.1-mile walk to the person whose untimely death produced the precious organ she received.

?People say, ?Why did you want to do that??? said Paine, an administrative assistant in the enrollment management office at Tabor College. ?It was sort of like, ?I don?t know. Why should their pain be my joy??

?Sometimes you just have to do something to say ?I appreciated it, it was worthwhile.??

Paine?s journey toward a transplant began in 1998 when she was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a disease where walls of the bile ducts in the liver become inflamed, causing damage to liver cells. Eventually, the liver develops cirrhosis and can no longer function.

?They told me at the time that possibly within 12 years I?d need a transplant,? Paine said.

?I kind of just accepted it and moved on, figuring when the time comes the time comes. I wasn?t going to spend my life worrying about.?

Her health deteriorated slowly over the next eight to 10 years, but mostly because of her driven determination she continued mostly normal routine.

That changed around Easter 2006 when her condition worsened suddenly and drastically.

?One day I was at work and the next day I was really, really sick,? she said.

The dramatic change caused her doctor in Manhattan to fear that rather than PSC she actually had bile-duct cancer, which is almost always fatal.

?For whatever reason, I didn?t worry about that,? Paine said. ?I can?t even explain that.?

She was referred that same weekend to Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, a hospital renown for its work in liver transplants.

?Even after I was in Nebraska, they weren?t positive I didn?t have cancer because they said (PSC) just doesn?t progress overnight.?

But then she received some good news: Because her blood type was AB, she could receive a liver from a donor whose blood type was A, B or O.

Paine was moved to the front of the recipient list.

?I was on the waiting list with nobody else. There were more than 100 people there but I went right up to the top?and that?s the God-story part. That was determined a long time ago.?

The first liver identified for Paine was determine by the doctors to be ?not good enough.? But three weeks later, the Paine family received a call that another liver had been found and the procedure moved forward.

?It?s unheard of to get a liver in less than a month,? Paine said. ?Even when I came out of surgery, they said this is like a poster-child perfect match.?

With her new liver, Paine?s health improved almost as dramatically as it had collapsed. Doctors told her she should expect to stay in the hospital for from six weeks to three months for recovery.

Paine was home in Concordia within three weeks.

Almost from the start, Paine said she had deep interest in her recipient. The transplant occurred on her daughter?s 21st birthday and Paine had the quiet sense that her donor was around her daughter?s age.

The hospital recommends that recipients write a letter to the family of the donor, whose identity is not revealed. The hospital forwards the letter to the appropriate address; it?s up to the donor?s family to decide whether to respond.

Paine got a letter back around Christmastime.

?When I found out that (the donor) was a young girl, it was like, ?Well, I knew that,?? Paine said. ?I always felt like I was writing to parents, not to a husband or wife.?

To this day, Paine does not know a lot about the donor except that her name is Shelly and she was an athletic person before she died.

But Paine said she thinks frequently about Shelly and the inherent questions about what happened to them both.

?The thing I think about the most is that in any transplant situation, someone?s joy is always somebody else?s pain,? she said. ?That?s really hard for me to accept.

?I want to think, why did an old person get a young person?s liver? Why didn?t a young person get her liver?

?It?s just one of the mysteries of God, why things happen the way they happen. I still don?t think it?s fair that I lived and she didn?t. But I don?t know what the plan was.?

Paine?s gratitude to Shelly and her family has affected the way Paine envisions her own future.

?It kind of makes me feel that anything I do for anybody else?s good is really the result of the gift that was given to me,? she said. ?It makes me feel a little more responsible to do something worthy.?

For example, even before the transplant, Paine had developed a passion for Operation Christ?mas Child, a program of the Samaritan?s Purse organizations that solicits, collects and distributes shoeboxes filled with toys, necessities and school supplies for poor children around the world.

?I make an Operation Christ?mas Child box in (Shelly?s) honor every year,? Paine said. ?It?s just a way for me to think about her and to think that a child will benefit from something that was a direct result of my contact with her.?

Paine?s commitment to the project goes beyond that. This year she is developing a gathering site for filled shoeboxes in Hillsboro to make it easier for local people to get involved.

?Any one little shoebox that is made because of something I said, or because I volunteered to have a relay center here in town, is really in direct relation to (Shelly?s) gift to me.

?Every box that comes in does so because she gave me that gift.?

Paine has developed another passion: to spread the word about the value of organ donation.

?I just want people to know how easy it is to be a donor,? she said. ?It?s a way you can give that really takes nothing away from you until you can?t use it anymore.?

Paine said it was no accident that the half-marathon she walked in late September was in Omaha, the site of her transplant.

?I didn?t prove anything by it, but it was important to me.?

Paine said she?s considering walking another half-marathon in April, which is National Donor Month, and perhaps inviting four or five others to walk with her to spread the word about organ donation.

?It?s hard to make a statement by yourself,? she said with a smile.

Every step Paine takes to make a difference draws her closer in some quiet but profound way to Shelly.

She said she would consider it an honor to meet Shelly?s parents someday; she feels she shares a bond with them since she and husband Larry lost a child of their own in the past. She feels they share the importance of a continuing a child?s legacy into the future.

?It?s an interesting experience that you don?t have to have,? Paine said of her transplant, ?but one that you feel a responsibility to live worthy of such a gift.?

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