Reno woman receives new liver after 10-year wait

Reno woman receives new liver after 10-year wait
by Jaclyn O’Malley

Reno Gazette-Journal

In 1980, Heidi Smith was given a blood transfusion in an Oregon
hospital following a miscarriage. The blood she was given was
ultimately infected with the hepatitis C virus. At the time she was
infected, medical officials had not discovered hepatitis C, and they
would not have a blood test to screen for it until the following decade.


While waiting more than 10 years for a new liver to replace her own ravaged by the hepatitis C virus, Heidi Smith used
humor and a positive attitude to get herself through each day.

Less than two weeks after her transplant at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, the 58-year-old Reno
woman continues to joke, despite doctor warnings laughing could cause stitches to rip.

“I just remember waking up and having tubes down my mouth and not being able to talk,” Smith said during an
interview Friday. “I looked like a cyborg with all these plastic things coming out of me everywhere. My first thought
was: I’m Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

Smith joked that she plans on getting a vine tattoo to complement the large surgical scar on her abdomen.

The night after Christmas, Smith got the call that Oregon hospital officials had a donor, and she needed to get to
Portland immediately. Smith and her husband, Steven, arrived hours later by charter plane. She was released from the
hospital Thursday night.

Smith, a mother of six, will recover at both her son and daughter’s home in Portland.

Several times a week, she will have to go back to the hospital for tests and training on how to live as a transplant
recipient, her husband said. She will have to take numerous medications and take extra measures to preserve her
immune system. It was unknown when she would return to her Reno home.

“She is doing fantastically well,” Steven Smith said.

And her “humor is back,” he said. “One comment she did make is that she didn’t feel any different, she said, ‘I just feel
like me.'”

The only thing Smith knows about her donor is that the liver was from a young woman.

“I was happy about that,” Smith said about the age of her donor. “If I learn she likes peanut butter it will be bizarre. The
first thing I asked for when they asked me what I wanted to eat was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

One of the most noticeable differences Smith noticed since the transplant is the decreased levels of ammonia circulating
throughout her brain. High levels of ammonia caused her to become disoriented and lethargic. Properly functioning livers
detoxify poisonous chemicals such as ammonia.

Smith said it’s been difficult to sleep because it’s hard to find comfortable positions.

“I feel fine,” Smith said. “The doctor said she aged 10 years during the surgery. I don’t know what that means.”

Throughout her wait for a new liver, the community and transplant advocates rallied for Smith and helped her raise
money for expenses related to the $100,000 surgery. She was featured on two Nevada transplant advocacy Web sites.

“We really have to thank the community for their support and prayers, and all the assistance they provided to us during
the last several months and years,” Steven Smith said.

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