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Hagerstown man is in critical need

March 25, 2003|by KEVIN CLAPP

His words come slowly, deliberately, as if each syllable weighs a ton and Lester Stambaugh labors to lift each one.

Speech is a struggle. The 31-year-old Hagerstown man is fatigued, felled by a liver disease sapping his strength and putting his life in danger.

Since Wednesday, Stambaugh and his wife Suzanne have been in Jacksonville, Fla., where he has undergone evaluation at St. Luke's Hospital, Mayo Clinic for placement on its transplant list.

Diagnosed in 2000 with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a disease that causes inflammation, scarring and eventually blockage of the liver's bile ducts, Lester Stambaugh's liver is failing. Out of work since November, he has spent much of the last five months in and out of hospitals in Hagerstown and Baltimore.


On the wait list for a liver at Johns Hopkins Hospital since October 2001, Lester Stambaugh found help. His trip to Jacksonville has been facilitated by members of the Stambaughs' church family at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Big Pool.

In Florida, Suzanne Stambaugh said, there is a shorter transplant list. The hope is that within two to eight weeks, her husband will have the new organ he needs to survive.

"We got great support behind us. Without their help and without God's will, we wouldn't be where we are now," Lester Stambaugh said last week before traveling to Jacksonville. "We don't know what to expect until we get down there, and we love everybody for their help and can't ask for anything more."

PSC is a rare disease affecting 100 people per million, or roughly 28,000 in the United States, according to Dr. Keith Lindor, chairman of the division of gastroenterology and heptology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Also on the board of the American Liver Foundation, Lindor said there is no treatment for the disease, in part because of its unpredictable nature.

"Some people can have the disease complicated by cancer or be very severe," he said. "But others can have a disease that is very mild, and can go on for years and years and not have any progression."

Symptoms include jaundice, fatigue and itching. Suzanne Stambaugh said her husband's blood does not clot well, and gallstones have blocked his bile ducts in the liver.

Transplantation does not rule out a recurrence of the disease. However, Lindor said, when PSC returns in transplant patients, it is generally in a milder form that is not life-threatening.

Members of the St. Paul's congregation, including Clear Spring resident Dina Norris, have provided baby-sitting for the Stambaughs' three sons, ages 8, 5 and 1. They have also established a fund through the church to offset the family's growing medical and other expenses.

Two other United Methodist churches in the Big Pool area, Mt. Carmel and Parkhead, have joined the effort. Another parishioner, Christi Baker, contacted the Jacksonville hospital. Norris and her husband, Ken, made arrangements to transport the Stambaughs to Florida. The question has never been can they help, Dina Norris said, but how much?

"We consider them part of our family," she said. "They are so young and have got the three boys, we want to make sure their boys grow up knowing their dad."

Suzanne Stambaugh, 26, traveled with her husband to Florida. Torn between nervousness and hope, she knows it could be a matter of weeks until her husband is cured. Until that happens, she remains anxious about what the future will bring.

Regardless of the outcome, the couple cannot overstate their gratitude for how the church community has rallied around them.

"You wonder sometimes, the way the world is today," Suzanne Stambaugh said. "But there really are a lot of people willing to help."

Donations for Lester Stambaugh can be made payable to St. Paul's United Methodist Church, with a notation that funds are for the Lester Stambaugh fund, and sent to the church, 11404 Tedrick Drive, Big Pool, MD 21711. For information, call the church office at 301-842-3212.

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