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LifeSource Ambassador Reflects on the Gift of Life

LifeSource Ambassador and grateful liver recipient, Paul Cimmerer, looks back on his journey as he gets ready to celebrate his 30-year liver transplant anniversary!

Back in 1982, when I was 31 years old, I was diagnosed with a chronic liver disease called primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) for which there is no cure. PBC is an autoimmune disease where the liver eventually destroys its own bile duct system causing scarring of the tissue. At the time of my diagnosis, I was told that I would eventually need a liver transplant, but we didn’t know when that would be. For the next 10 years, I was able to live, work and raise a family before I became sick enough to need a transplant. It was a difficult time for me, my wife Sandy and our four daughters as there was this big unknown about how long I would live and what my health would be like. I experienced a lot of uncertainty, fear and concern about how life would turn out for me and my family. 

As the years progressed, I noticed my health slowly declining. Eventually, I became very jaundiced and fatigued and even confused at times due to the liver not cleansing the blood as it should have. I was placed on the transplant waiting list at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in April 1991 and was fortunate to receive “the call” just a few months later on July 15, 1991. I was told that a liver, which would be a good match for me, had been donated by a 40-year-old man who died in an ATV accident in South Dakota.

I felt relieved, scared and sad all at the same time. It was difficult knowing that someone had to die so that I could live through the gift of organ donation. And it truly is a gift. Had I not received a transplant, I would have been dead in about a year. 

I remember very vividly the night of July 15th when I was preparing to go to the hospital at the University. I was so nervous I was shaking. As I walked out the front door, I remember thinking to myself that what I hoped for was to be able to see my daughters, who were 13, 12, 10 and 2 years old, graduate from high school. We were all scared but hopeful.

My transplant surgery went very well, and I experienced very little organ rejection. I was able to return to work in just a few months and my transplanted liver has been working great for 30 years this coming July. My family and I feel so fortunate and grateful that I have been able to continue to work and live my life almost as if no transplant had ever occurred. Of course, there have been some health bumps along the way, but these have been well managed. Covid-19 has complicated life for everyone and being somewhat immunosuppressed, my family and I have been extra careful to not become exposed to the virus. Being vaccinated has helped reduce some of the concern but we are still very careful. 

Paul and his wife Sandy enjoying some time on Cape Cod in September 2020.

Because of my life-saving transplant and the wonderful length of time my donated liver has been healthy, my wife Sandy and I have experienced our four daughters attending college, getting married and we now have eight terrific grandchildren. I continue to be involved in the arts, making pottery and painting with acrylics. Sandy and I love to travel, especially to Europe, and hope to do more of this as Covid-19 calms down. I am also a LifeSource Ambassador, sharing my story in the community and encouraging others to register as a donor and save lives. 

It is impossible to even imagine what life would have been like for me and my family had the man and his family from South Dakota decided not to be an organ donor and save the lives of several people. My family and I live in eternal gratitude for the generosity of my donor family. It is an understatement to say that organ donation is a life-changing event. I have lived over a third of my life because of my donor. I bless them every day. And July 16, 2021 is the 30th anniversary of my transplant! Amazingly fortunate!