An education in the gift of life
Todd Zody and his family have the hearts of teachers. Todd, 65, spent 25 years as a special education teacher and high school administrator. His daughter, also a special education teacher, works with autistic children and his wife is the director for a preschool.
About 11 years ago, Todd’s physicians at Kaiser Permanente in Denver diagnosed him with a rare liver and bile duct disease called Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, or PSC. While it is possible to live for some time with the condition, there is no definitive treatment outside of liver transplant.
“I enjoyed life as much as I could,” said Todd, “but I honestly thought I would die of bile duct cancer or liver failure.”
At the end of 2020, as he was preparing to retire, Todd’s physician told him the time had come to seek a transplant. His liver was sclerosing and tissue samples demonstrated that he was developing early signs of bile duct cancer. He was referred to Mayo Clinic in Arizona and admits to being a little anxious about what would happen next.
Todd and his sister and caregiver, Melody, arrived in the Phoenix area on December 7. It was a difficult time to be traveling and to be away from home, as the pandemic raged across Arizona. They quarantined in their temporary accommodations, venturing out only for the huge battery of tests that Todd needed for his transplant evaluation. Simultaneously he was receiving cancer treatment – chemotherapy and proton beam radiation—to assure that cancer was not progressing in his body.
“If they found cancer, I would need to go home,” he said. He would no longer qualify for transplant.
Mayo Clinic staff looked for signs of cancer in February, including scans and a biopsy. This was the last step in his evaluation, and maybe the most important one. He got life-affirming news: he was cancer-free and would be listed for a transplant.
After two and a half months of evaluation, it took only two and a half weeks to get the call that every transplant patient anticipates. The team was evaluating a donated liver.
“I will remember it forever, ‘We may have a liver, are you nearby?’ I was living a mile from the hospital and my go-bag was packed.”
On March 1, 2021 Todd underwent a lifesaving surgical procedure thanks to a donor family’s gift, a transplant team’s skill, and the science, education and advocacy that makes every transplant possible.
One-month post-transplant, and with no complications, Todd says he is now making plans for the future in a way that he never allowed himself to do before.
“I had kind of stopped thinking about that,” he said. “Now, in time, I can resume a full lifestyle.”