Evelyn Pusateri – Liver transplant recipient
Many people in Louisville have heard of the Pusateri family and their generosity to those in need. Whether it’s fulfilling the wishes of an Extreme Home Makeover for a local hero or saving the Louisville Orchestra from bankruptcy, you can be sure the Pusateri family is there leading the way. It isn’t really a surprise that this family is so giving and shows so much concern for those around them. They know first hand what it means to receive an incredible gift from a stranger when you need it the most.
In 1985 the mother of the Pusateri family, Evelyn, went to the doctor for a routine physical at the insistence of her seven children.
“I hadn’t been to the doctor in years. My kids kept nagging me to get a physical so I finally went and got one. The doctor called me the next day and said he was concerned about one of the blood tests that measures liver function and he wanted me to have a biopsy.”
Evelyn, who was an active career woman, wife and mother wasn’t concerned since she had no symptoms to speak of and was by all accounts in good health. Several days later she returned to get the results of her biopsy.
“I was stunned when the doctor told me that my biopsy showed I had primary biliary cirrhosis. It’s a disease where the bile ducts are slowly destroyed and harmful substances build up in the liver and they don’t know what causes it.”
Then the doctor delivered the news that changed Evelyn’s world forever.
“He told me if I didn’t get a transplant I’d have 5 years to live. At first I didn’t believe him. How can you feel so good and hear someone tell you you’re dying?”
Under the care of her doctor Evelyn continued to work for the next several years with no apparent symptoms of her disease.
“It took about 2-3 years before I started to notice changes in my health. My skin was starting to yellow, I was weak and I would go to bed as soon as I got home from work.” Not long afterwards, Evelyn’s condition worsened and she started to bleed internally.
This change in her condition meant that Evelyn had to be evaluated for a transplant and her name was officially added to the transplant list right after she was elected president of the Kentucky Association of Realtors.
“They didn’t know how long the wait for a transplant would be since it depends on if there is a biological match between the donor and the recipient. So I just did my best to keep working and waiting for the phone to ring.”
Six months later, on a Sunday afternoon, Evelyn finally received the call she’d been waiting for all these months.
“I got the phone call on December 3rd at 3 p.m. that a donor liver had become available and I was a perfect match. I received my transplant the next morning.”
Evelyn came home to Louisville on Christmas Day 17 years ago. “Today I’m healthy, still working, I have a great social life and I’m a great grandmother” she said with a smile. “I owe it all to my donor and his family.”
Evelyn contacted her donor’s family through the anonymous letter writing program that the organ procurement organization provides donors and recipients.
“I wrote them to say thank you and let them know how much their gift meant to me and my family. I told them I would love to meet them and thank them in person if they were interested.”
Five years after her transplant Evelyn’s donor family invited her to Virginia so she could meet her donor’s parents and his 7 brothers and sisters.
“Initially it was overwhelming but they were such a nice family, it was a joy. I learned that my donor, Mark, was 26 when he died in an automobile accident. He had declared his wishes to donate on his driver’s license. At first his parents didn’t want to do it but his brothers and sisters said that’s what he would have wanted. After meeting me they were not only happy that they donated Mark’s organs, they decided to register to be organ donors themselves someday.”
Evelyn’s donor’s mother made her a scrapbook of Mark’s life which included things like pictures of him when he was a child and his college diploma. Every year Evelyn visits them and twice they have visited her in Louisville. Last year both of her donor’s parents passed away but she still keeps in contact with his siblings.
“It was like losing my mother all over again. We were very close. Her children thanked me for what I had done for their mother and here I was trying to give my thanks because it meant so much to me.”
Today Evelyn is involved in the advocacy group Second Chance at Life in Louisville, which promotes organ donation throughout the state. Several of her children are active in the organization and all are registered organ donors.
“If you could save 7-8 lives after you’re gone, why wouldn’t you?”