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Burden moving on with life after double transplant

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By Ron Benningfield

W.D. Burden knew something was wrong two years ago when he started feeling exhausted and sluggish for no particular reason.

When his body began swelling from head to toe, however, the Hodgenville resident and retired social worker realized he must see a doctor, and soon.

“I was dragging,” he admitted, “and my body was so swollen I looked like I was pregnant.”

Those symptoms peaked on a cold Saturday night in January when severe pain stabbed him in his chest and back, causing him to believe he was having a heart attack.

“They took me right into the emergency room at Hardin Memorial Hospital, and started tests on me,” he said.

Dr. (Brandon) Houk called for more tests, and when the results arrived, the doctor told Burden he had good and bad news – the good news was it wasn’t a heart attack; the bad news was that he saw scarring of Burden’s liver, plus a lot of excess fluid.  

“They gave me a diuretic and in one night and day, collected 20 pounds of fluid from my body,” said Burden.

During his week-long hospital stay, the diagnosis indicated cirrhosis, which they told him was incurable.  

He was referred to a University of Louisville Hospital physician, Dr. Matthew Cave, who said that the focus of treatment would be to prevent the liver from becoming cancerous.

Burden decided to fight the disease with diet and exercise. His wife Mae researched the Internet to find the sodium content of all foods he regularly ate. His battle plan was to limit his daily intake of sodium to 2,000 milligrams, and he stuck to the plan like a good soldier to his orders, counting every milligram at each meal, and sometimes even falling to no more than 1,600 milligrams per day.

Though he lost his best helper and supporter when his wife died within a few months on April 14, 2013, he continued to be faithful to his regimen. Still, his health deteriorated.

“I developed hemorrhoids, had surgery for them, then had to have three endoscopies to insert bands around my blood vessels in my esophagus to keep them from swelling,” he said. 

Transplants

Three weeks of testing at Jewish Hospital showed a failing liver and Burden became a candidate for a transplant. Doctors also discovered that the low-functioning liver had caused a kidney to be damaged beyond repair, meaning that he also needed a new kidney.

“They don’t like to do transplants if you’re over 70,” said Burden, 73. “It took me two months to get on the list, and they told me to expect to be on it three to four months before a liver became available, but once I was on it, they found a donor for me after just 15 days.”

On Sept. 13, while Burden was preparing for regular appointment with Dr. Cave, he received a call that a liver and kidney had become available from a donor from somewhere in Kentucky who was between 20 and 50 years old.

Hospital staff scrambled to obtain the organs. As soon as they could be brought to Jewish Hospital and Burden could arrive, the 13-hour surgery began that day.

“I can remember their moving me into the operating room and onto the operating table, but I don’t recall anything else until I woke up in the recovery room on Saturday,” he said.

Burden was in the hospital for three weeks before being moved to Frazier Rehab Institute.

Twenty-eight days after surgery he moved into his new residence, a condo on Baxter Avenue in Louisville, where he is now under no medical restrictions, and free from swelling and pain.

“I can’t say enough about Jewish Hospital, and my team of doctors and staff,” he said. “They were fantastic.”

He also paid reverence to a higher power.

“I am thankful for, and understand now more than ever, the power of prayer,” he said. “I was on prayer lists both in Green and LaRue counties, and I know that’s been a big part to my recovery.”

When he encounters people now who see him going about his normal routines only two months after such serious surgery, they tell him he’s a miracle.  

Burden says an integral part to bringing about the miracle was the support of his children – Andy, who lives in Florida; Tammy, a resident of Jackson, Tenn.; Jayme, of Elizabethtown; and Troy, who resides only a couple of blocks from Burden’s condo.

For example, when Burden arrived from rehab, his condo was waiting, fully furnished, thanks to Troy and Jayme who moved furniture from the house on Lincoln Boulevard in which Burden had lived for 47 years.

“Both boys have taken fantastic care of me and watched out for me,” he stated. “I haven’t had to do anything but get better.”

“My house in Hodgenville is too big for me to manage, especially the yard, so I’ve decided to sell it, pull up roots, and replant them here,” he continued. “Losing Mae and also my illness have caused me to realize life must go on, and I have to move on.”

In his new surroundings, he is two blocks from Highland Baptist Church which he’s attending, and a post office; three blocks from a grocery, library and primary care doctor. All, he said, are well within walking distance.

“My condo is much smaller than my house, but it’s comfortable and wonderfully located,” he said. “I feel good, can walk, and do whatever I feel like I can do.”

He still has a couple of things on his bucket list, too.

“I want to travel and to go on a cruise – to the Panama Canal,” he said. “When I was in fifth grade, I studied about the canal and became intrigued with it; plus, they pamper passengers on cruises, and I take to pampering really well.”