Ed Henry: I’m becoming a liver donor for the sister I love, so she can live a long and healthy life

Editor’s Note: Interested in becoming an organ donor while you are alive or after death? You can learn more and sign up at the U.S. government website organdonor.gov.

When I broke the news by telephone to a close friend that I'm about to donate my liver to my beautiful and loving sister, Colleen, the guy all but exploded on the other end of the line: "What are you TALKING about? That's great but you only have ONE liver, what are YOU going to do?"

Since I deliver the news for a living, I quickly realized by my friend's panicked reaction that I should have been much more precise with my language. And I also figured out that telling my story now could be of service to other families going through a similar health crisis.

GOFUNDME PAGE FOR COLLEEN HENRY'S RECOVERY

It is my sincere hope that talking about this journey for myself and Colleen, who has been bravely battling degenerative liver disease over the last few years, will help bring some awareness for the over 113,000 people in the U.S. waiting at this time for lifesaving organs (about 13,000 of whom need a healthy liver).

ARE YOU AT RISK FOR LIVER DISEASE?

But believe me, I am not trying to paint this as some grand plan to revolutionize organ donations in America. My goal is much simpler: I am determined to do whatever I can to give my sister the greatest gift of all, which quite simply is life.

My friend on the telephone wants what is best for my sister as well. But he, like just about every other person who I have confided in about this, knew very little about the magical power of the liver to quite literally grow again. So his concern was innocent and honest. He was just worried that in helping the sister I love, I would somehow be left with no liver at all, unlike say a kidney donation where I would at least wind up with one of two kidneys.

The reality is far less scary, and once I explained this to my friend he exclaimed: "I'm here for you – whatever you need!" That has been a constant refrain from so many good people, and now my sister and I do need something, and that is your prayers and well wishes.

On Tuesday I will be donating approximately 30 percent of my liver to my sister at a hospital in the Northeast. I will undergo about six hours of surgery to remove that portion of my liver, and in an operating room next door Colleen will go through about eight to 10 hours of surgery to entirely remove her diseased liver and replace it with part of my liver.

The liver is an amazing organ that will then regenerate in both me and my sister after the transplantation. While we know going in that nothing is for certain, if some semblance of the game plan is accomplished, we will each emerge from surgery with our own healthy liver.

So to answer my friend's original question, my one healthy liver will become two in a matter of hours. And then I am told that within four to six weeks, both of those portions of my liver will grow back to 100 percent in each of us.

You read that right. Colleen and I could each have our own healthy livers – from one liver – in just over a month. It is nothing short of a medical marvel, and yet doctors in this great country called America perform these miracles pretty frequently.

On Tuesday I will be donating approximately 30 percent of my liver to my sister at a hospital in the Northeast. I will undergo about six hours of surgery to remove that portion of my liver, and in an operating room next door Colleen will go through about eight to 10 hours of surgery to entirely remove her diseased liver and replace it with part of my liver.

Last year, for example, there were about 8,250 liver transplants performed in our nation. Yet only 401 of those transplants were from living donors like me. The rest were livers obtained from deceased people who were kind enough to share their organs with others they would never meet.

I stepped forward for my sister because she was on the transplant list, which is very long, waiting for someone else's liver. While Colleen has allowed me to share the broad outlines of her case, we are not sharing the specific details for obvious privacy concerns. But let's just say her condition has been getting worse, and she needs a quick intervention. Her liver was not diseased by alcohol; but family history involving the liver impacted her, while sparing me.

There have been a lot of highs and lows since I stepped forward confidentially to see if I was a match for my sister almost a year ago. It was a secret, even to my sister for a time, because there are a lot of complicated layers to this process. That is why the hospital assigns the potential donor psychiatrists to work on your mental health, as well as your physical health, during this long process.

For example, I did not tell my sister at first about the medical tests I was taking to screen my compatibility because some people start the process in good faith, and then for various physical or mental reasons they may choose to back out – or the hospital could decide the potential donor just can’t go through with it.

If you tell your sibling you are going to do it, and then are unable to help for whatever reason, I can’t even imagine how difficult that gets.

This is one reason why the hospital set up two separate medical teams – one for me and one for my sister – that did not directly communicate with each other for months. The primary reason for this is that my medical team wanted to be 100 percent certain that I was healthy enough to survive the arduous surgery.

Last year, for example, there were about 8,250 liver transplants performed in our nation. Yet only 401 of those transplants were from living donors like me. The rest were livers obtained from deceased people who were kind enough to share their organs with others they would never meet.

The way I understood it was that they correctly believe that there is no point in saving the recipient's life with a donor who may die. This is tough stuff and my medical team had to justifiably be cold-hearted about saying that as much as they cared for my sister, they could not focus on her at all; they could only make sure I was ready and would not clear me for surgery until then.

In my case, I desperately wanted to donate without reservation, but the doctors instructed me I first had to lose 10 to 15 pounds to cleanse fat from my liver and get the medical clearance needed for surgery.

As luck would have it, I was hosting "Fox & Friends" one weekend early in the process, when we had officials from a veteran-owned business called Kettlebell Kitchen on for a segment about the healthy meals they can deliver to your home. I pulled them aside and asked them to design a meal plan for me, and they were so terrific in complying without ever knowing why I was losing the weight.

The pounds came off with the low-calorie food, more regular workouts, and a big reduction in alcohol intake. As I grew closer to my weight-loss goal, I felt confident enough to tell my sister that I was going through the tests I needed to try and become a donor. She was beyond grateful and I was happy to hear the hope back in her voice.

But that hope turned to agony when the doctors told me I was still a few pounds short of my goal in the late spring, and on our phone calls my sister was expressing concern that her situation was getting more grim.

I felt helpless not being able to donate. I fought with the medical team, urging them to let me donate as soon as possible, but to their credit they held firm and pushed me to lose the last few pounds.

I was praying to God for the strength to get me across the finish line. But as with any mission like this, I could not do it alone. My wife Shirley has been a rock, and my two children have shown courage far beyond their years all because they want to see their aunt get healthy, while our parents have always been such loving role models for Collen and me.

This journey has also meant running out of work in the middle of the day for yet one more blood test, and several MRI's. The 2020 election is already in full swing, and yet when I confided in Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace they immediately and aggressively told me to do whatever I needed to do to help my sister. I am forever grateful.

Then there is Lauren Petterson, senior vice president of morning programming & talent development, who has been with me every step of the way, and not just because she is one of my bosses. One of her friends, Amy, donated her liver to her own dad around Memorial Day in 2016. Three years later, both the donor and the recipient are healthy.

When I spoke to Amy by phone recently, she cheerfully told me she was out of the hospital just four days after surgery, but she added that it took a lot of medication to get through the tremendous pain of having your liver split up – and your gall bladder removed while the doctors are in the neighborhood.

"The sooner you start moving the better," Amy said. "Once you start moving you go from patient to person again."

As a golfer, I got particularly excited when Amy said her dad, who was the recipient, was back on the links within a year of his surgery. But that, of course, is a minor pleasure compared to the sheer joy I felt on June 5, when my own medical team called to tell me that I could follow in Amy's footsteps. Two doctors had cleared me to be a donor.

My latest MRI had revealed the amount of fat in my liver had been cut by half, and the volume of my liver had actually shrunk from a healthier lifestyle. The work of several months had paid off with the best dividend of all, finally getting to call Colleen and tell her I could do it!

My sister is humble, never wants to be a burden, and always tries to shoulder as much as she can on her own. So we both cried as I tried to tell her to sit back and let me take care of her this one time.

She thanked me profusely, but then Colleen immediately started fretting about how much of a hardship this surgery would be on me. She particularly zeroed in on the fact that the operation was being scheduled to put me in the early stages of recovery around my birthday.

"Yeah, the doctors tell me this surgery will pretty much wreck my birthday this year," I joked, trying to lighten the mood, and we both laughed.

The fact is that the risk of mortality for me is extremely low – less than 1 percent, according to the doctors. I will gladly take on the small risk of what the paperwork I signed at the hospital last week calls a "large midline incision" for the gigantic reward of having my sister around for a very long time.

I am motivated also by the fact that she is one heck of a mom to my niece and nephew. Her son has always been delightfully shy and reserved, but he blew me away with a text that came in a few days after I called Colleen with the good news.

"Happy Father's Day Uncle Ed!" he wrote. "Thank you so much for doing this for my mom, it means everything to her and me."

As for Colleen, she was a little hesitant at first about me sharing the story on Fox News. But then she texted that while she wanted to hold back on speaking publicly herself for now so that she can rightly focus on the surgery ahead, she wanted me to talk about it.

"It is truly a heartwarming story about the love & bond between a brother & sister," she wrote.

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And here I thought I was the talented writer in the family. Yet again, my sister blew me away with her ability to rise to the occasion at a trying time, and she reminded me exactly why I am willing to do whatever is humanly possible to make her feel even a little bit better.

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