Almost three years ago, Bob Hayes of Haines Junction donated 60 per cent of his liver to his younger brother, Farley Hayes, of Whitehorse.
“Here, bro, have some liver.”
Well, it was not quite that easy, but it saved his brother’s life.
Three years later, the donor brother enjoys excellent health, and his recipient is remarkably healthier than he previously was.
The donor Hayes explains that his own liver regenerated in approximately eight weeks, and he has been living a very full life.
He has since written most of a book about wolves and has worked heavily as a freelance biology consultant.
He plays mandolin with two bands, and has co-organized four Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festivals, of which he is artistic director.
He is also physically vigorous; alpine skiing is a favourite sport.
Hepatitis C destroyed the younger Hayes’ liver. The damage was discovered six years ago, and no prescribed drug treatment matched his system.
He suffered two near-death experiences because his liver was malfunctioning.
“It was either wait and die — or find a liver,” says the older Hayes, “so Farley searched for three years for a cadaveric liver because he was concerned about putting anyone in his family at risk.”
“And especially at age 51, it was a bit of a risk,” Bob continues. “Age 50 is really the cut-off for the donor.”
According to Bob, one-third of liver donors experience complications.
“It’s really a big surgery; it took 10 hours, but I went in healthy.”
Bob leans back comfortably in his chair and describes his family’s closeness and support.
“I grew up in a military family, re-locating a lot, so all six of us became each other’s best friends. That was our social stability.
“We’re still all close and see each other regularly, even though we live great distances apart.”
He emphasizes that three other siblings offered to be donors, but two lived far away, and one sister has two young children.
“I was the obvious candidate, and it was fortunate that we matched.
“And we had great support. My brothers and sisters came from all over Canada to help with Farley and me afterwards.”
He elaborates on his wife’s and daughters’ involvement and support.
“I didn’t feel that mortality was an issue for my part, but I needed to make sure that my wife, Caroline, and daughters were comfortable with it.”
He admits that no one is fully comfortable in this kind of situation.
“Really, it’s not comfortable,” he says. “It may not be what you want, but it’s OK to do it, and that’s what we all agreed on.”
Even though there is always a way out of being a donor, right to the last second, Bob says he was never tempted to withdraw.
No crying or swearing or bargaining with God?
“In fact,” he says, “after one series of testing, it looked as though I might not match. I was deeply disappointed, so it was a watershed moment when I found out I could actually make it happen.”
Caroline says they remained calm even at the last moment before the crucial scene.
“We just giggled and laughed with Bob’s sister, Nancy, while we waited with Bob that morning. You would never have known that he was going in for a very major operation.”
Bob expounds also on the incredible support of the Edmonton medical community that brought it all to fruition.
“Every step of the way, there were mentors and counsellors and opportunities to step back. No one pushed, and the doctors, too, were phenomenal.”
“But,” says Bob, “I see a major flaw in our society concerning support for the whole donor process.”
He points out a lack of financial support systems for potential donors. It is one huge hurdle he advises potential donors to consider.
“I was fortunate to have a flexible schedule,” he says. “I could go for lengthy testing several times, and be incapacitated for awhile.
“But not everyone can do that. Many donors are younger than I am, and are still raising families. They may not have much medical leave to work with.”
Bob argues that donors need to be financially and logistically supported for at least forty-eight weeks to a year. He suggests that even Employment Insurance is not sufficient because it does not match wages or cover the total duration of the process.
“We need to lobby for this kind of support,” he says. “There could be more donors that way.”
Bob picks up his mandolin and says, “In the meantime, I’ll finish my book and organize the bluegrass festival. Being artistic director of that festival is my most pleasurable thing.”
The Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival will be held at the St. Elias Convention Centre in Haines Junction June 8, 9, and 10.
There will also be concerts and dances in various other venues, and a pre-festival music camp at Silver City.
Both Bob Hayes and Farley Hayes will be there.
Elaine Hurlburt is a writer living in Haines Junction.