Mike Butler says 'life's been wonderful' since double-organ transplant
Double-organ transplant recipient Mike Butler of Hagerstown is the Western Maryland representative for Donate Life Maryland. (By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer / May 4, 2012)
With so many variables, all a potential recipient can do is hope and wait. Butler's doctors gave him a beeper. He kept it on him at all times. He waited. His friends and family waited, too.
"While you're on the waiting list for a transplant, you're waiting for a call," he said. "I was going through the University of Maryland for my transplant surgery. They got (contact) information for my family, my friends, because once they get a match for you, they are on the phone."
That call came to Butler on March 19, 1995. He said he had just undergone dialysis and gone to work as supervisor of the evening shift at Frederick County Sheriff's Office Corrections Bureau at the Adult Detention Center when the telephone switchboard lit up.
"It was all my family and friends calling, saying, 'Hey, Mike, they're trying to get hold of you at the University of Maryland.' And my beeper was going off."
Doctors said they had found a closely matching donor for a kidney and a pancreas — five out of six criteria. They offered the opportunity to Butler. He could accept or decline.
"I said, 'I'm in. I'm on my way,'" he said.
The next couple hours were a blur for Butler. Doctors took an MRI, did blood work and prepped him for surgery.
"Next thing I know, my family's in there and the chaplain. And we're talking with the doctors with the staff. They say, 'It's time to go,' and we go down," Butler said. "I'm still under a little anesthesia, and I do remember getting down to the OR. And next thing I know —it just seemed like a couple minutes — I wake up, like eight hours later. Surrounded by family and friends, hooked up to everything."
Butler stayed in the hospital for 10 days as doctors monitored him, adjusted his medications and made sure he could function all right.
But right from the start, Butler said he noticed a difference.
"The kidney and pancreas kicked right in after the surgery. The doctors came in and talked to me the following day and said everything went well," he said. "My family came down to see me. They could not get over how I looked. Before the transplant, I had yellowish skin and dark circles under the eyes. And I lost all this weight. Just didn't look good. Afterward, the dark circles were gone. The color in my skin — I looked like a new person. And I had all this energy. I was just dying to get out of that bed."
Butler said a month after his release from the hospital, he went back to work. He no longer needed dialysis. He no longer took insulin shots. He had more energy than he'd had in years. He felt great.
But he knew his gain came from someone else's loss. Organizations that arrange organ donations do not identify donors for privacy concerns. But they will send a letter from a recipient to the donor's family. So Butler wrote a letter.
"The whole time I was waiting, and especially waiting in the hospital, I wanted to know who my donor was," Butler said. "Pretty much my letter was 'I don't even know where to start to say thank you.'"
Butler hoped for a response from the family, letting him know who his donor was. But he heard nothing.
Finally, after a year, Butler received a letter from a woman in Washington state. The woman said her daughter, Kelly, was Butler's donor. Kelly died at age 27 of a brain aneurysm.
"Her mother said it was one of the hardest things she ever had to do, was to take her daughter off life support," Butler said. "But the doctors told her there was nothing they could do. And Kelly wanted to be an organ donor."
Butler said whenever he makes a presentation about organ donation, he praises his donor.