In our many years of homeschooling we have had the most excellent good fortune to meet some wonderful families along the way. The very best part is that many of our friendships had their start in our homeschool years and continue now as those kids are graduating college and making their way in life.
Let me introduce you today to our friends, Lizz and Jerry Mishreki and their daughters, Alex and Ariana. Lizz and I got to know each other as our kids became friends and further bonded because she has a fabulous Cuban aunt and totally “got” me and the ways of Cubanity.
She posted the following story on her Facebook page and I asked if I could please share it here.
Their daughter, Ariana just graduated with her Bachelor’s degree and her husband, Jerry… well, his story of donors, transplants, miracles, and amazing grace is the one I’m privileged to feature today. I’ll let Lizz take it from here.
WARNING: Get tissues.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. This one’s not. It’s worth more. WAAAYYYY more. Don’t take my word for it. Read on.
This is the story of how one daughter and one dad each had a goal. For the daughter, it was the goal of earning her bachelors degree. For the dad, it was a little more serious—a matter of life and death. His goal was to receive a second chance at life from an organ donation.
Well, in a matter of a month’s time, they each crossed their respective finish lines. After a 16-year journey, the dad got his liver transplant on Sunday, April 8, 2018 at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. On Saturday, May 5, 2018—less than a month later—the daughter graduated with her bachelor of arts degree in business management from Concordia University Irvine. So, it was only appropriate that on graduation day, the daughter would dedicate her graduation cap to her dad.
This is the story of my husband, Jerry Mishreki. A few months ago, you may have seen a Facebook post that my daughters and I shared looking for a living liver donor for him. That didn’t work out. Because the Lord had bigger plans.
See, I could start this story at the very beginning. Atlanta, Georgia September 14, 2001 when my husband was diagnosed with a liver disease that could only be cured with a liver transplant. And I could tell you how the doctor that day said that if he didn’t get a new liver in 18 months, he was going to die. And I could tell you how this 16-year journey came down to 5 months of living in Cleveland, Ohio for a viable organ. And how that wait included a trip to the ER, the Cleveland Orchestra performing at Severance Hall, coffee in Little Italy, meeting and making friends with other transplant families, and a white Christmas with our daughters visiting us in our 100+ year-old apartment at Transplant House of Cleveland. But I’ll save that for another time.
Because this is about one day. One 24-hour period across 4 states. One brilliant surgeon. And one very happy daughter. And father.
Before I tell you about “the call,” let me give you some perspective. While we were living in Cleveland this past fall and winter, Jerry did receive a few offers for organs. They were all high-risk. And just like in life, you have to consider the consequences of your choices.
In February of this year, the Cleveland Clinic, along with other transplant centers across the country, began offering livers with Hep C to non-Hep C patients. Now that there’s a cure for Hep C, and with a continued shortage of organ donations in our nation, and so many young organs being procured as a result of the opioid crisis, the healthcare community is forced to get creative.
So that was the choice my husband was facing—a Hep C liver. I’ll admit, our walls were up. After all, why would you remove a diseased organ and swap it out with another diseased organ?
This is when we decided we needed to head home to California for a break, and to talk to our daughters about dad’s prognosis. And of course, we missed them terribly. It was then, during our break in California, when we decided to look for a living liver donor. We never wanted to pursue this route because it’s asking a lot of another family—to consider loss of income, hospitalization, and the risks and benefits of being a living donor. But time was running out for my husband. His health continued to decline. So, we posted our request on social media. The living liver donor nurse coordinator at CC told us there were a couple of interested people who had called, and one who looked promising. But after checking in with her one day, that’s when she told us that a living donor was out. It wasn’t going to happen.
There was no living donor. And in actuality, we had a peace about it. It’s what we wanted to know, either way. And it helped us see what we had to do next: put Jerry’s name on the list to receive a Hep C liver. But now, we had a peace about it. Our hearts had changed. So, we let our transplant coordinator at CC know. Also, by this time we had purchased our airline tickets to fly back to Cleveland and wait again. We were scheduled to fly back Wednesday, April 11, 2018.
But a funny thing happened a few days earlier.
It was 11 a.m. California time on Saturday, April 7th. At home in Orange County, Jerry was almost done with his shower when his phone rang. It was the Cleveland Clinic. On the other end was a transplant coordinator. She said “your surgeon has accepted an offer (for an organ) for you. How soon can you get here?”
Like with the other offers he had received, Jerry asked about the condition of the organ. This organ was different. It was a young organ, and non-high risk, qualities that are ideal in organ donation. Looking back now, I think the Lord was testing our hearts. Now, that we finally had a peace about accepting a Hep C liver, it’s like He had us where He wanted us—submitted to Him. And then He said, “Watch Me now!”
He gave my husband a perfect organ. We couldn’t have asked for a better liver.
So, Jerry accepted the offer. They told him that he had to be at the Cleveland Clinic by midnight, otherwise they would give the organ to the next patient. We scrambled like crazy to find the first flight out of John Wayne Orange County Airport to Cleveland.
Our dear friend Joshua, who helped us, found one. Only one problem: there was one seat left. So, we put Jerry on that flight, and I followed on different flight out of LAX.
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life was dropping off my husband at the airport. Seeing his body of just skin and bones (PSC eats up body mass like crazy), barely able to roll his carry-on broke my heart. Who would help him? As I drove away, I prayed that the Lord’s theatre of grace would be played out on that airplane—just like it had been played out in Cleveland with the kindness of complete strangers toward us—through the workers and the passengers. And it was.
A Delta airline employee brought him a wheelchair just as requested by our friend Joshua. But then the agent behind the desk went a step further and upgraded my husband, just because. Then, that same agent again upgraded Jerry, this time to business class. The flight attendant offered him cookies and a banana, too, although he was PNO (couldn’t eat anything by mouth pre-surgery), it was a kind gesture.
The passenger next to him, a young lady, helped him with his carry on. At his connecting flight in Minneapolis, Minnesota he had three terminals to walk in order to get to his plane. However, each terminal had 24 gates!
Again, a Delta employee acted diligently and rather than pushing his wheelchair all that way with only 20 minutes to spare, the employee put him on a golf cart-type cart. And he made it.
Keep in mind, all this time he’s flying by faith. We didn’t know if the surgery was a go. Transplant surgeries aren’t a go until the transplant surgeon physically looks at the organ in front of him or her. Color, size, and shape can all make a difference. And in looking out for the best interest of their patient, they can call off the surgery and give the organ to the next patient. So, we still didn’t have confirmation.
His flight arrived a few minutes early it Cleveland Hopkins around 11:15 p.m.—12 hours after that morning call back in Orange County. The Cleveland Clinic Police (yes, this phenomenal hospital has its own police department!) picked up Jerry at the airport and drove him to the hospital. A female police officer picked him up and could’ve just dropped him off at the hospital, but she didn’t. She put him in a wheelchair and took him and his carry-on to the surgical floor and handed him off to the nurses.
Jerry arrived at the Cleveland Clinic with only 15 minutes to spare before midnight. And he got his brand-new liver.
Meanwhile, while he was arriving in Cleveland, I was flying out of LAX to a connecting flight in Detroit, Michigan then to Cleveland. And I can’t tell you the peace that we both felt during this entire time. It’s the peace that the Bible talks about—that peace that surpasses all understanding. Or, just doesn’t make sense. He covered us.
When I landed in Detroit at 6 a.m. EST Sunday, the surgical team had just made the first incision and I wasn’t there. But I had a peace. As the sun was rising in Detroit, and as I listened to worship music, it truly was a new day for our family. My flight arrived early in Cleveland—9 a.m. Sunday, April 8th—nearly 24 hours after the call back in Cali.
Elaine Turley, the director of the Transplant House of Cleveland where we’ve been living temporarily, picked me up at the airport to take me to the hospital, and wait with me. Again, the kindness of strangers on display. Another set of friends who we met while living at Transplant House in the fall, drove from Jamestown, New York to be with me during the surgery. As a caregiver for her husband who had a lung transplant, Melissa knew what the wait would be like. Again, strangers who became friends.
And if that wasn’t enough. Remember how I told you that this story began nearly two decades ago in Atlanta when Jerry was diagnosed? Well, our pastor from Atlanta and his wife now live in, you guessed it, Columbus, Ohio! He drove 2 ½ hours to also be with me during the surgery. The kindness of friends.
But probably the most beautiful words I have heard during this journey were post-surgery in the lobby of the Cleveland Clinic. It’s the words that our surgeon Koji Hashimoto used to define Jerry’s liver. In a message from him on my cell phone—that I’ll never, ever erase—he described his liver as beautiful.
Then, when he came out to talk to me in the lobby, he said it was perfect. You can’t ask for anything more. How can our living God grace us so exceedingly and abundantly? And why us? As our daughter Alex told her dad, it’s because He loves you.
Friends, in Koji’s words, this is just the beginning. This story is not over. It’s just begun. What seems like a 16-year delay to us this side of heaven, now seems to have been in His perfect timing.
And, as we celebrate my husband’s second birthday each Sunday, remember our donor family. We have been praying for them all these years. They are grieving the loss of their loved one who could have saved as many as 8 lives because of their decision to be an organ donor. We hope one day to meet our donor family.
So, do you see now why our daughter Ariana decorated her graduation cap the way she did? We couldn’t be at her graduation this past Saturday. Jerry and I are still living in Cleveland while he recovers before we go home.
To celebrate, we decorated with streamers and balloons in her school colors. Because we could. And watched her ceremony live stream.
Sometimes the best medicine is simple medicine. And for this father and daughter, it couldn’t be truer.