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Williamsport native needs liver transplant

Always a giver, Sue Garison, of Loyalsock Township, finds it difficult and humbling to be on the receiving end of the generosity of her family, friends and strangers. But receiving a 90-day to live prognosis before Christmas and standing by for the “OK” of a life-saving liver transplant has turned her world upside down.

“I’m humbled at the outpouring of support and love,” Garison, 54, said tearfully. “People are bending over backwards for me. This is very hard but who knows when a thing like this could happen.”

Garison was swept into a whirlwind of doctors, medicines and hospitals beginning last August when her ammonia levels rose as a consequence of impaired liver function. She was being monitored for a year for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, NASH, which is a liver manifestation of a metabolic disorder and is the most severe form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

“I arrived at work, and got there OK, but I couldn’t figure out my computer,” Garison, who works at Mitchell Gallagher P.C., explained. “I was frustrated so I stood at the window. For two hours, I was confused and couldn’t remember my log in. My family picked me up and took me to the hospital. I was pretty confused and didn’t know the day or year. They did a work up but nothing showed on the bloodwork. As time went by, I got better, but then it reoccurred.”

Raised levels of ammonia in the body can cause confusion and tiredness. Garison’s husband of 33 years, Robert, and their son, Dustin, knew something was wrong. She visited her doctor and found out she had hepatic encephalopathy.

In this condition, the liver can’t remove toxins from the blood, which causes high ammonia levels, Garison explained. By this time, the leaves had fallen and Thanksgiving had passed. One thing led to another and, with no liver specialists available, she was referred to gastrointestinal doctors.

“While waiting for tests, I developed a condition called ascites, which is an abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen,” Garison said, cringing. “I ballooned up 80 pounds because all the toxins and fluids in your body filter through your kidneys and liver and blood stream, and it wasn’t working. My ammonia level was 180 and it’s supposed to be 12. I was way out in God’s country. I thought I was going to die. My whole family was called in because they thought I wasn’t going to make it.”

With her deteriorating condition, her husband and son decided to move her to Montefiore Hospital, Pittsburgh, in mid-December. The liver team examined her and she was told it was end-stage liver disease and given 90 days to live.

“It’s a hardship,” Garison said. “I have people watching my house, taking care of my dog. My husband and son haven’t left my side. It’s the end of the year and there’s no vacation time left. There’s no income. In today’s economy, it takes two paychecks to survive; who in their lifetime plans for a liver transplant?”

After hearing the devastating news she learned she needed to undergo evaluations to be considered for a transplant. For the first test Garison needed to show she could do everything she did physically before she was sick.

“When I arrived I was so weak. I couldn’t hold a cell phone or push the call button. I was incredibly weak,” Garison said swallowing tears. “Nothing clicked for me. I couldn’t concentrate on the Hallmark movies, which I love. I needed to walk down the hallway for my evaluation and I didn’t know how I could.”

Garison prayed all night and knows she received her strength from God. She arose the next day, showered and walked the hall by herself.

“I’ve been on a lot of prayer chains, with many, many people praying for me,” Garison said. “I know God orchestrated every step that happened in Pittsburgh. Things happened and I don’t know why they happened.”

With end-stage liver disease patients are given a Meld score, which rates the need severity of a transplant, Garison said. The numbers range from 6 to 40 with the lower the number the better based on lab results. Garison’s Meld score dropped from 31 to 23 by the time she left Pittsburgh.

All Garison’s test scores are given to the transplant board for consideration. She needs to be approved by the transplant board and her insurance company for the procedure.

“My life is in their hands,” Garison said. “After I’m officially put on the list, my son and niece want to have the testing done to see if they can be donors. I’m very humbled by what everyone is doing. I’ve been a giver all my life, not a taker.”

Born and raised in Williamsport, Garison, a life-time member of the Loyalsock Township Fire Company, is known for her famous macaroni and cheese at the fire company’s annual gun raffle. She is active with the mobile air unit and has been a member since age 16.

If approved for the transplant, she will need to remain in the Pittsburgh area for months after the surgery to be close to the hospital with her husband helping with her 24-hour care.

Her insurance will cover her needs including numerous medications over her lifetime, as well as a live donor’s medical care, but Garison may be responsible for 20 percent of the bill since it will be out of network in the Pittsburgh area, she explained.

Two funds have been established for monetary help. A fund was started at M&T Bank on River Avenue and another on Facebook.

There will be a benefit spaghetti dinner from 2 to 6 p.m. March 14 at the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, East Third Street. Tickets are available by pre-order via text at 570-651-3116 or 570-971-2236 and at the door.

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