New Liver Brings New Outlook on Life

By Kate Franks

“It became so bad it was affecting my balance, and I had a few falls,” said Allis of Little Rock. “In the fall of 2018, I had a fall in a hotel in Denver and had to go to the emergency room, where they found that I had cirrhosis of the liver. The doctors at the University of Colorado Medical Center recommended I go to UAMS when I returned to Little Rock, and they sent UAMS my records.”

Under the care of UAMS hepatologist Katie Rude, M.D., Allis was placed on the liver transplant list in the summer of 2019. Over the next year, he received several phone calls about the possibility of a transplant that day with instructions to not eat or drink until further notice. On one occasion, he was even admitted to the hospital and underwent pre-op protocols, but ultimately the UAMS surgeon determined that the liver wasn’t suitable for him.

“The evening of May 31, 2020, I received a call from UAMS asking when I had last eaten,” said Allis. “I told them it had been less than an hour. I was told to get to the hospital as soon as possible. My wife, Kevin, and I were there around 30 minutes later. We both had a feeling that it was finally going to happen that night.”

UAMS surgeons Lyle Burdine, M.D., Ph.D., and Emmanouil Giorgakis, M.D., transplanted the new liver into Allis, and he was up and walking in his hospital room in just a couple of days. With the transplant taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic, Allis was not allowed to have visitors before the transplant or for the first several days of his recovery in the hospital.

“On the sixth day, they let my wife come so they could give us instructions for at-home care,” said Allis. “It was an emotional reunion as we were so glad to see each other.”

“The instructions were very thorough as there were several things that would have to be done on a daily basis, including monitoring temperature, weight, blood pressure and glucose level (including insulin shots when necessary),” he said. “Almost all the members of the transplant team were involved in the training. Most importantly, I was introduced to the daily regimen of medications that I will take for the rest of my life. Initially, there was a period of constant adjustments to the dosages until the team achieved the ‘sweet spot’ based on the weekly blood tests.”

Because of the visitation restrictions during his hospital stay for the transplant and a subsequent stay to treat a virus, Allis said the UAMS doctors and nursing staff became his family.

“There isn’t enough space to capture my thoughts about the team at UAMS,” said Allis. “I think I now suffer from separation anxiety because I don’t get to see them as much.

“The names of my heroes at UAMS are many, but I have to mention a few like Brenda, Jennifer, LaDonna, Larissa, Karson, the two Kims, Brandy, Holly, Amanda, Emily (in pre-op) and Denice,” he said. “I also have to mention my hepatologist, Dr. Katie Rude, who is not only a great M.D. but somewhere along the line also managed to get a Ph.D. in wonderful.”

After his transplant Allis settled into a normal path of recovery, which included physical therapy to address balance and back pain issues, and he began working out and doing some cardio activities. One problem that arose was feelings of disappointment and mild depression after about six months.

“It had been suggested that I would feel like ‘a new man’ after a period of time,” he said. “After six months I just wasn’t feeling it, and there was no euphoria or sense of magical well-being. I suspect my expectations were too high, and I wanted to recover fully at a faster rate.

“Now that I’m three years out, there definitely is a feeling of well-being and tremendous gratitude. I think many people in my position would say they’re lucky to be alive. I don’t really look at it that way. Maybe there was luck in the circumstances that led me to UAMS, but once there, I believe luck ended. It was replaced by people who had the training, skill and determination to manage my condition.”

Allis now says most of his physical issues are related to his age rather than his liver and that he can do many more physical things than he could in the years leading up to his transplant.

“But the most significant thing is that we are grandparents now,” he said. “Our granddaughter is almost 8 months old, and, although she lives in Denver, we have already visited her three times, and we get to see her frequently on Facetime calls. Watching her grow and develop emotions is so much fun for us.”

Since Allis is still immunocompromised because of the post-transplant medications, he and his wife are cautious about travel and the risk of contracting infectious diseases. They hope to visit the two remaining states — Michigan and North Dakota — needed for him to meet his goal of visiting all 50. They also plan to catch up on some overseas travel in the coming year. At home in Little Rock, he enjoys cooking, fishing, playing his guitars and attending classes at LifeQuest of Arkansas. He is also a news and history junkie.

“I occasionally joke that UAMS robbed me of all my favorite vices through tender explanation, then arm twisting and finally, threats,” he said. “I get it. Donated livers are a precious commodity. Why give a good liver to a person to extend their life if that person is going to turn around and do things to shorten their life?

“Plus, you become very attached to these beautiful people who work so hard to save you that you don’t want to let them down,” said Allis. “I believe the UAMS transplant team should receive more national attention. If you are an Arkansan with liver or kidney problems, there is no reason to even consider going anywhere else.”