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Judy Ramer of Funkstown is in need of liver transplant

March 24, 2013|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Judy Ramer of Funkstown has nonalcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. She said her health has been declining in the last year. She is hoping to receive a liver transplant.
Ric Dugan /

FUNKSTOWN — Her strength and energy have diminished and her symptoms have become more pronounced.

But that hasn't stopped Judy Kinzer Ramer from hanging tough in the biggest fight of her life.

She needs a new liver.

There is no whining, no complaining, no self-pity.

Just the hope that soon she will receive the best possible news: a phone call telling her a donor match has been found.

"I want to start living again," the 61-year-old Funks-town resident shared. "And with God's help, maybe things will turn around for me and I can be myself again."

Ramer, a lifelong resident of Washington County, grew up in Williamsport and graduated in 1969 from Williamsport High School.

She had always been a healthy, active person, she said, and had only been in the hospital for the typical surgeries like knee replacement.

But about six years ago, she began experiencing a great deal of abdominal pain that led her to a Hagerstown gastroenterologist, who ran several tests.

From the results, the physician decided to do a liver biopsy. And that's when Ramer received her diagnosis.

She had nonalcoholic cirrhosis of the liver.

Ramer is one of more than 30 million people in the United States who has liver disease.

A vital organ in the body, the liver often can be damaged without sending out immediate signals or symptoms. Some people might live with the disease for years before realizing there is a problem, according to the American Liver Foundation.

Among the causes of liver disease are viruses, certain medicines, toxic chemicals and genetics.

Ramer believes she inherited the disease from her father, "who, at the age of 87, died of the same thing," she said. "I got the bad gene."

Still, she admitted, "I never thought it would happen to me."

Cirrhosis is a slowly progressing disease in which healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue, eventually preventing the liver from functioning properly.

During the past year or so, Ramer said the disease has caused her health to gradually decline.

Early last summer, she had a transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) inserted to prevent blood loss. Normally, blood coming from the esophagus, stomach and intestines first flows through the liver. When the liver has a lot of damage and there are blockages, blood cannot flow through it very easily and causes increased pressure and backup of the portal vein. The veins can then rupture, causing serious bleeding.

"It's supposed to keep me from losing blood," Ramer said, "but I started bleeding in November. Doctors believe the shunt is working and aren't sure what is causing the problem, despite having had an MRI, a CAT scan, several endoscopies, a colonoscopy and ultrasound."

She said she's been in and out of the hospital about five or six times, both locally and at University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

Since 2009, she has had 125 transfusions of blood, iron, plasma and platelets — "all to keep me alive," she said.

Ramer said she tires easily and has little energy to do the simplest of tasks.

"I can't do anything," she said. "I can't even go to the grocery store because I get so weak. It's been rough. I'm pretty much homebound. I go to the doctor, and that's about it. This disease has really changed my life."

Ramer said she is in need of a liver transplant but several issues complicate her situation.

"First, I was told I was not sick enough for a transplant," she said. "Now, I'm too sick. The doctors won't even consider me for a transplant until I get my strength back."

Ramer said she will be traveling to Baltimore this week, where her situation will be re-evaluated by a transplant team.

"I might have good news. I might be told I can handle a transplant," she said. "I'm certainly hopeful."

But Ramer has a rare blood type — A negative — "and finding a match will be difficult."

Despite these obstacles, Ramer refuses to give up and is now making a public plea for a liver donor.

"Even if someone could donate half of their liver, that would help," she said. "In fact, the donor's liver will quickly grow back to a full liver."

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center's website, the donor's liver regenerates to its normal size within two to five weeks.

"I would be so grateful to anybody who could help," Ramer said. "I would so deeply appreciate it."

Persons interested in helping, may contact Ramer at 301-797-3852 or at j.ramer@myactv.net

"Everyone, my husband, Terry, my children, have been very supportive through this whole ordeal," she said. "I just want my life back."



Eligibility, procedure for becoming a liver donor

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center's website, the best candidates for liver donation are family members. But anyone who is a match can be a donor.

Potential donors must meet the following minimum criteria:

  •  Be in excellent medical and psychosocial health
  •  Be between the ages of 18 and 60
  •  Cannot have uncontrolled high blood pressure, liver disease, diabetes or heart disease
  •  Be a compatible blood type with the recipient
  •  Be of equivalent or larger size rather than of smaller size.

These characteristics are assessed by the transplant team at the time of the evaluation.

The Center also notes that donating a part of a liver does not change the life expectancy of a donor, nor does it increase a person's chance of developing liver disease.  The donor's liver regenerates to its normal size within two to five weeks.

The website notes that, if the donor is accepted, a meeting will take place with members of the transplant team to discuss the procedure and any concerns.

On the day of surgery, the donor will be moved to an operating room, directly adjacent to the operating room of the recipient. Both surgeries will begin around the same time.

The donor's team of surgeons will remove the right lobe, which is typically about 60 percent of the liver. It will then be transported to the recipient's operating room and sewn into the recipient.

The donor's surgery typically lasts six hours. About three to four follow-up visits with the transplant team will be scheduled prior to being released from the hospital.

Allow four to six weeks for recovery period.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, there are more than 17,000 people in the U.S. awaiting liver transplants. Due to the ongoing shortage of cadaver livers, transplant centers, including UMMC, have adopted living donation as a partial solution to the shortage. As a result, the number of adult Living Donor Liver transplants performed is increasing and many people are opting to give the gift of life by donating a portion of their liver someone in need.

More information about liver transplants and Living Donor Liver transplantation, including success stories and online resources, can be found at the University of Maryland Medical Center's website: www.umm.edu/transplant/living_liver_donor.htm



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