Channahon woman thankful for liver transplant, ‘new lease on life’

Carol Owen had just come into her Channahon home with food when she got the call from hospital.

“They said they had a liver for me. How soon could I get to the hospital?” Owen said.

That was 4:30 p.m. Dec. 13. Owen, 62, of Channahon, previously was diagnosed with hepatitis C and liver cancer after some bloodwork during a routine physical came back abnormal and was told she needed a liver transplant.

And now the long-awaited day had arrived. Or so they thought.

So Owen and her daughter Becky Churchill of Elwood, a registered nurse at AMITA Health Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, drove to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the hospital that would perform the transplant.

Thirty-two hours later, Owen was told the liver was too fatty for the transplant, so they returned home. Owen said Churchill figured that, as the hours ticked past, the transplant wouldn’t happen. They hadn’t fully understood at the time that the phone call wasn’t a guarantee.

“We’re more aware now of how things work,” Owen said.

Owen did finally get her transplant on Jan. 14. But not until Owen went through another false alarm on Jan. 10. That time, the call came at 11 a.m. and Owen was instructed to simply wait by the phone for further instructions.

Several days later, Owen got another call at 7:30 a.m. She went into surgery at 7 p.m. and came out at 3:30 a.m. the next morning.

Owen had a rocky road to recovery with a few trips in and out of the intensive care unit, including once for pneumonia and fluid overload. In fact, the first time Owen was discharged, she was readmitted 21 hours later, she said.

During that time, Owen’s husband, Roger, and Churchill alternated days when they visited her. But Owen’s son Roger Jr. came every day, she said.

Owen finally was discharged for good on Feb. 10 and is recovering at Churchill’s house at the insistence of Becky’s husband, Bob Churchill, Owen said. Owen’s 14-year-old grandson, Bobby, even temporarily gave up his bedroom for her, Owen said.

But then it was rough on Bobby not being able to see his grandma while she was in the hospital, Becky said. He could only FaceTime with her, she said.

“Now that’s she home and doing much better, it’s wonderful,” Becky said. “She’s cancer-free, she’s had a new lease on life, and it’s time for her to move on and enjoy her retirement now.”

Owen is happy and thankful for the transplant, she said. She has physical therapy twice a week and occupational therapy twice each week. Her therapists have told her they can see her progress, Owen said.

The only trouble Owen said she is having is regaining her appetite, which her doctors told her is normal. That, and Owen takes so much medication now, it almost feels like a meal, she said.

“Before that, I was on two pills, water pills, and they had nothing to do with my liver,” Owen said.

Becky Churchill said Owen has since developed high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation. Owen also must have bloodwork done three times a week, she said.

“But I never do anything easy,” Owen said. “I always have to stand out, somehow. But the family handled it really well. I knew they were afraid, but everybody’s good now.”

Both Becky Churchill and Owen would urge people to become organ donors, and not just because Owen received a liver transplant. Owen said she and her family supported organ donation even before her transplant.

It’s because organ donation saves lives, they said.

“Like Becky said, I’ve got a second lease on life,” Owen said. “And I’m going to live it to the fullest.”

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.