Liver Transplant Story - Mark Howell
Mark Howell talks about hepatitis C like an old friend.
“I got it when I had a blood transfusion,” he reminisces. “I was like nine years old. We were jumping off the roof, and my pants got caught on a nail. I was hanging over a picket fence. When I finally dropped, I tore this open (flashing a large abdominal scar).”
“My dad said, ‘You ain’t Superman,’ and I laughed as the blood gushed out. The doctors had to replace the blood I lost, and back then no one tested for ‘hep C.”
Howell learned of his hepatitis C status only because his brother had colon cancer, and based on the risk factors, he was asked to have a complete physical. When required testing for a new hepatitis medication revealed liver cancer, he already had decided to refuse traditional chemotherapy, fearing the side effects. “I was prepared to die,” he says.
One factor Howell didn’t count on was his “Angel.” Angel Howell was not about to lose her husband without a raucous fight. After discussions with the couple, doctors in their hometown of Wyoming, Michigan, suggested that Howell see Reena Salgia, M.D., at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. The tumors in Howell’s liver were inoperably large, making him ineligible for a liver transplant. Dr. Salgia suggested an alternative solution.
Theraspheres®, tiny glass beads one-third the thickness of a human hair, would deliver necessary radiation to the tumors, while chemo-ablation techniques would work to deliver medication where needed, bypassing healthy cells in the rest of his body.
The treatments were successful, shrinking Howell’s tumors and keeping the cancer at bay. But after a year on the waiting list for a transplant, things took a negative turn again as he was back in his local hospital, liver function fading and the only solution a transplant.
Given palliative treatment and sent home to “wait,” he had again “given up.”
The next day, though, the call came from Henry Ford Transplant Coordinator, Annette Feeney. Soon Howell and wife Angel were back on the road to Detroit – this time on the trip of a lifetime.
Upon arrival, they were greeted by transplant surgeon Kelly Collins, M.D., who assured Angel she would receive regular updates throughout her husband’s surgery, and was true to that promise.
As Howell put it, “It turned out this liver was worth the wait,” as the liver he received was perfect in size, and every other measurable factor. Henry Ford doctors were even able to eradicate his hepatitis-C.
Howell has some residual pain after the surgery, but still reports feeling the best he has in 40 years. Angel continues to be his biggest advocate, managing medication, scheduling follow-up appointments and occasionally reminding the reinvigorated Howell to “slow down.”
Asked if life as a transplant recipient is at all confining, Howell emphatically says, “No! I eat a healthy diet and get as much exercise as I can. I even have an app on my phone to track it!”
Since being diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer, Mark Howell nearly lost his home, and his life. He credits the saving of his home to Angel and to the kindness of strangers who deserve “a huge thank you.” He credits the saving of his life to his liver donor, his bride and to the Henry Ford Transplant Institute.
“If I had been anywhere else in the world, I don’t believe I’d be here today,” he says. “I’m blessed to live in this state, near this hospital, with these doctors. The team at Henry Ford has been great.”
“We’re now at a place where we can tell people ‘thank you,’ and let them know just how appreciative we are.”
“We’ve started celebrating everything!” adds Angel. “We celebrated the anniversary of our first date, birthdays, Christmas, and of course, October 16 – Transplant Day.”