Woman seeks living liver donor; makes transplant list amid worsening condition

MORGANTOWN — Karen Molisee needs something she didn’t even know was possible — a piece of healthy liver from a living donor.

Karen Molisee, 61, never knew a living organ donor was possible until she made the transplant list.

Molisee graduated from Morgantown High School and worked for Rockwell International before beginning a job in Admissions and Records at WVU in 1976. She has worked for the university since.

Karen Molisee

She said her health problems began in 1990 when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

“In 1995, I started itching, and so they did some, ‘maybe it’s your detergent, maybe it’s this or that,’ ” she said.

But it wasn’t that. It was primary sclerosing cholangitis, which affects your bowel ducts.

Not everyone with Crohn’s gets primary sclerosing cholangitis, but Molisee is one of those who did.

“They had to go in and put stents in my bowel ducts, and I thought they left them in like they do stents in your heart, but they don’t. They took them and had to keep changing them until (the ducts) opened enough.”

Molisee said her gastroenterologist warned her of the possibility she’d one day need a liver transplant, and she learned in January she made the list.

“I went to UPMC in Pittsburgh in January to be evaluated because I had this edema, swelling in my legs and feet and in my belly,” she said. “In January, they had me come up for like four days for testing. They found out I made the list.”

It was then Molisee also learned about the living liver donation program. A healthy person donates a piece of his or her liver to a matching recipient and then both pieces of the organ grow back to a normal size over time.

According to information provided by Lawerence Synett, manager for digital strategy and public relations at UPMC, “More than 14,000 people in the U.S. are currently on the UNOS waiting list for a liver from a deceased donor, and nationally, 1 out of every 5 patients will die on the waiting list.”

Synett said UPMC “led the nation in living-donor transplants and was the only center to perform more living-than deceased-donor liver transplants.” Molisee is hopeful.

“I have been told by several people that have gone through this that it just makes a remarkable difference in their health. You have more energy; you feel better.”

Since January, Molisee said her body has been through tremendous changes amidst a worsening condition.

“I’m very fatigued,” she said. “The fatigue seems to be getting worse. Sometimes I have nausea. I’ve lost a tremendous amount of weight. I’m just really fatigued all the time.

Molisee said she has been on intermittent Family Medical Leave since July.

Susan Sellers, a co-worker and friend, said she has known Molisee since the 1980s and became her champion in helping find a donor.

A group of co-workers makes a point to get together for dinner regularly.

“We’ve had a couple friends that had different cancers and stuff, so we are kind of like a support group for each other,” Sellers said. “So when Karen got so sick, we knew she didn’t have a lot of family, so we said we’d all pitch in and be there to help [her].”

Sellers said her daughter’s fiancé had a double-lung transplant in 2011, and it made her aware of what transplant recipients go through to find a donor.

“It’s very emotional. It’s a lot of stress. So I really just wanted to help take the burden off of her,” Sellers said.

Sellers said she has been posting to a support Facebook group, and she and other friends are looking for other ways to get the word out to find a donor for Molisee.

Sellers said she knows going through with a transplant is a lot to deal with — for the donor and the recipient — but she looks forward to seeing Molisee have energy again and get back to her life.

Molisee said sometimes a transplant candidate can become too weak to have surgery, so she has been making more frequent trips to UPMC and undergoing more testing.

Appointments used to be every three months. Now they are more like every five or six weeks, and her doctor wants her to start seeing a physical therapist, too.

Molisee said her donor would need to have an O+ or O- blood type — positive or negative will work.

“Karen is really sweet. She’d do anything for anyone,” she said. “She’s a good-hearted person. She’d do anything for anyone. She’s always been there for all of us, and like I said, we’re always a group.

“If you’re sick and you need anything, she’ll bring it to you,” Sellers said. “If you’re upset about anything, she’ll be the shoulder to lean on. She’s just an amazing person.”

For more information on becoming a living organ donor, www.upmc.cpm/services/trans plant/liver. Support Molisee on Facebook at Living Liver Donor Needed.

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