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TWO WEEKS AFTER his liver transplant, Jules Snead of Woodridge revels in his new-found health.
After transplant: 'I feel like a new person'
By Frank Rizzo
WOODRIDGE In this, the season of Valentines, Jules Snead of Woodridge got the best love present of all: a new life.
His health had declined dramatically last year, thanks to cirrhosis of the liver. This in turn was a result of Hepatitis C picked up from what he called “too many tattoos” in his Marine Corps days.
Snead, 52, could have been one of the 17,000 Americans awaiting and dying while waiting for a liver transplant.
His wife Regina was determined that he was not going to be one of those; she decided to be his partial liver donor.
Two weeks after awaking from the transplant surgery at Westchester Medical Center, Snead sat next to his wife in their kitchen and said simply, “She saved my life.”
The crucial moment for Jules came when surgeons opened up Regina to examine her liver.
The pre-surgical MRIs and CT scan images were nothing compared to the living reality of the vital organ.
“It was slightly smaller than expected,” Regina recalled. “But they were able to go ahead. They took out 62 percent of my liver.”
The waiting was hardest for Jules that Monday, January 12.
“If the liver wasn’t the perfect size or weight, [surgery] was a no-go,” he said. “I kept asking, ‘Is it gonna happen?’ and the intern kept telling me, ‘We got it, don’t worry,’ but I was nervous. There was great emotional and moral support from the people there.”
Finally he was brought into the operating room, where Regina lay on the other side of a curtain, her liver ready for its transplant.
“The equipment scared me the most,” Jules related.
A nurse reassured him, “Everything will be all right.”
“Please don’t let me die,” Jules pleaded.
“We won’t let anything happen to you,” the nurse replied. “We’ll take care of you.”
“It’s major surgery,” Jules reflected. “There’s a risk… you might make it or not.”
“They removed his liver, then brought mine over,” Regina said. “There was a lot of vascular work with veins and arteries.
“Everything had to be timed perfectly,” she added.
Regina estimated the first incision on her abdomen took place between 10:30-11 a.m., she was closed up at around 6 p.m. and did not awake until 9 p.m. Her surgery took longer than his.
Asked about post-operative pain, Regina said, “Whatever the heck they gave me, I felt nothing for three days. It wasn’t so much pain as discomfort.”
Jules woke up the next day, said the most uncomfortable thing was having a respirator tube. When he was able to speak his first words were, “I want to see my wife” three times.
The Sneads couldn’t praise their transplants teams enough there were about 15-20 staff for each of them.
“They were like a big family… they knew their stuff… you knew you were in good hands,” Jules said.
On Wednesday evening, they wheeled Regina out of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) room to her husband’s bedside in the same unit. The first thing she noticed was the jaundice evidenced by his “yellow” eyes was gone.
“Thank you… you saved my life and I love you,” a teary Jules told her.
According to Regina, “The tears flowed… doctors, nurses, family everybody was crying.”
Crucial milestones followed for Jules: breathing on his own, taking the first walk (and being able to turn around, which he found even more difficult), the first evacuation. The latter was critical the liver, after all, is vital to digestion.
Jules took a few days to find his appetite, subsisting on liquids at first.
The catalyst to his hunger was a fruit salad he spied in the hospital’s food court. Afterward he was able to eat solid food, and was rewarded, on coming home, with his favorite, chicken in all its varieties.
On Thursday, January 15, Jules was removed from the ICU. Regina was discharged on Saturday the 17th while Jules left the following Tuesday, the 20th.
His medical ordeal has put a mental strain on Jules, who has found himself on an emotional and psychological “roller coaster.”
He’s had great support from professionals, especially the area Veterans Administration clinic.
“Family and friends have bent over backwards for us… if it wasn't for them we’d be stuck,” Jules said.
Though grateful, Jules said he “didn’t like feeling helpless. I never liked to ask for help.”
Recovery will take time and Jules said the process is difficult, but the main thing is that his body has accepted the new liver.
“Now we’ve got to go on with our lives,” Jules reflected.
Regina, an Associate Executive Director at SullivanArc in Monticello, hopes to return to work next month.
Jules believes he can return to his job as a counselor at the R.C. Ward Alcohol Treatment Center in Middletown. Indeed, his co-workers raised money for him.
Whatever he winds up doing, he wants to help others, especially Iraq vets dealing with post-traumatic stress disorders and other adjustment problems.
In the meantime, both the donated part of his liver and Regina’s should return to normal size in the next few weeks.
“Within hours of waking up I started feeling better,” Jules said. “I feel like new person.”