They call it 'The Christmas Miracle'
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Friends are calling it the Christmas miracle.
Deputy Treasurer Nancy Buck gave her ailing boss, Treasurer Ira Cohen, one of her kidneys in August. But complications from that surgery led to a rare lymphatic duct leak, requiring her to repeatedly return to an Albany hospital, often to drain her abdomen of lymphatic fluid.
“Every week they were tapping my stomach, draining five liters of fluid,” she said.
Buck was put on an intravenous feed, then switched to a low-fat diet when her liver and pancreas overreacted. But her abdomen continued to swell with fluid, and doctors began openly wondering if it might claim her life.
With Cohen’s encouragement, Buck turned to Columbia University Medical Center, and its top donor transplant surgeon, Dr. Lloyd Ratner, agreed to take on the so-far-impossible task of locating the leak.
“He agreed the likelihood of finding something was slim,” Cohen recalled.
On December 11, Buck entered the operating room, where 10 liters of fluid followed by her gall bladder were removed.
Dr. Ratner and his team then explored her abdomen, finding a quarter-sized spot they guessed might be the culprit. To be absolutely sure, he stapled, sutured and glued the duct shut.
She emerged from the operating ward five hours later. But the fluid kept collecting, and Buck had to undergo another uncomfortable draining session before heading home to Roscoe.
Then, a few days before Christmas, it stopped. Buck’s doctors nevertheless remained neutral … till two days before the new year.
“On December 29, they took out my drain and said I’m in good shape,” Buck recalled with a smile. “I can eat anything again!”
The hole had evidently been plugged, and save for a followup visit to Columbia in February, she won’t need to return to the hospital.
“It was a big relief for my family,” she acknowledged. “Ira went through hell, too.”
These days, he’s in heaven.
“That would be an understatement,” Cohen affirmed this week. “I don’t know if I could express how excited I am!”
Wrestling with guilt over the fact that his results were phenomenally successful (“I never had any complication,” he said), Cohen was deeply relieved and delighted when his friend and co-worker went from a worst-case diagnosis to a best-case reality.
“I’m doing extremely well,” he said, “but I couldn’t celebrate until now.”
Buck feels like celebrating too, but she also wants people to know she wouldn’t have changed her decision to help Cohen even if she had known what would happen.
“I don’t regret one minute,” she stated firmly. “I have never, ever thought, ‘Why did I do this?’ even in the bleakest moments.”
She calls the complication “an unfortunate bump in the road” but points out that such a situation is exceedingly rare. In fact, medical literature doesn’t even show another such case in the U.S. ever.
“They could only come up with seven or eight cases, and I found out later none of them were in the U.S.,” she explained.
And she would never want anyone to avoid donating their organs for fear of finding themselves in the same situation.
“If you can save a life, I think anything is worth it,” she said.
Her only regret? Save for a piece of her liver or some spinal fluid, “I don’t have anything left to donate!”
Want to know more about organ donation? Log on to www.organdonor.gov.