FF-medic donates part of liver to retired police officer after seeing Facebook post
The Texas firefighter-paramedic said the experience taught him the importance of raising awareness about living organ donations
San Antonio Express-News
SAN ANTONIO — Bubba Laws was given only weeks to live.
Pancreatic stones caused a buildup of enzymes in the 69-year-old’s liver, which destroyed the organ and left him needing a new one. Bubba’s health began to deteriorate while he waited four months for a living liver donor. Making things bleaker, none of his family members were a match.
“I was on my way out and I knew it. I had already accepted death,” the San Antonio resident said. “I was already planning my funeral, and I was ready to go.”
Against her father’s wishes, Bubba’s eldest daughter, Kim Pendergraft, made a plea in November on Facebook for anyone willing to be a living donor.
“My dad is very proud and asked not to get anyone involved because he didn’t want to burden anyone, but I just saw him getting sicker and sicker and I felt like I had to do something,” Pendergraft said. “I felt like if he died and I did nothing, I would always regret it. I thought if I tried and it didn’t work, at least I know I did my best.”
Pendergraft’s decision paid off.
Kerrville firefighter Blair Casey and his wife, Michelle, who have been friends with Pendergraft and her husband for a decade, saw her post on Facebook and decided to get tested. The two had never met Bubba, but said it felt like the right thing to do.
“Being a firefighter, you get to help people all the time but, even if I’m not there, there will always be another firefighter or paramedic in my place and this was a chance for me to help a person out when there may not be anybody else behind me to help them,” Blair said.
After nearly two days of testing, Blair and Michelle both ended up as matches. Doctors choose Blair’s liver because it was larger and a closer match. He would be donating 65 percent of the organ.
There was one more obstacle: Bubba’s stubbornness.
Pendergraft and the Caseys keep the donation a secret because, the believed, the retired Houston police officer wouldn’t go through with the transplant if he knew it came from his daughter’s friend.
“He would have refused it from the get-go, he’s just a stubborn old man,” Blair said laughing.
The surgeries were scheduled for Jan. 7, under the guise that Bubba was receiving an anonymous donation. Blair would undergo a five-hour surgery followed by Bubba’s seven-hour operation.
Pendergraft said it was nerve-wracking to keep the secret from her father for so long, especially on the morning of the surgeries as both families had to pretend to not know each other in the waiting room of the University Transplant Center.
While they waited, Bubba began speaking to the Caseys as he passed them on the way to the restroom.
“(Bubba) looked at Blair and said, ‘this young man doesn’t look sick, why is he here?’ and went and asked him, ‘you ready for this?’” said Bubba’s wife, Pam. “And Blair is frantically texting Kim, worried that they had been found out, but Bubba didn’t know so we told them to keep calm.”
Blair and Bubba would meet again in less than 24 hours after their successful surgeries.
As soon as Casey walked into the hospital room, Bubba recognized him as the young man from the waiting room and quickly figured it out.
“I was flimflammed,” Bubba said laughing. “When I saw him, my mind went control, alt, delete. I couldn’t even talk. And I said ‘Kim, I’m going to get you.’”
After the initial shock wore off, Bubba said it was like he gained a son and daughter in the Caseys that day.
“If Blair and Michelle hadn’t stepped up, I would have been a dead man,” he added. “Now I realize how dumb I was for not wanting anyone to help me … Blair is my hero; he saved my life and I consider myself a lucky dog.”
Blair was released five days after the surgery but returned to visit Bubba, who remained in the hospital for two weeks to recover.
“He stepped up and he gave me a new lease on life and there is no way I can ever repay him for that,” Bubba said.
It will take Blair an entire year to fully regrow his liver and recover completely. He joked that the most difficult part about the recovery is not being able to drink alcohol for a year while his liver regains full functionality.
“Especially with these cold nights we have been having, a whiskey by the fire sounds pretty good,” Casey said.
Both families said Bubba’s circumstance made them realize how important it is to raise awareness about becoming a living donor.
“I’m ashamed to say that even as a paramedic being in the medical field, I didn’t even know a lot about living donations until I saw that Facebook post,” Casey said.
To see how to become a living donor, visit match.org or contact University Hospital for more information.
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