A Gift of Love, and Life


Many people can relate to making some type of sacrifice for the one they love. For some, it’s a move far away from family and friends. For others, it’s changing jobs or schools to be closer to their beloved. For 46 year-old Don Schwabe from Boise, Idaho, it was giving a part of himself he had never imagined.

Three years ago at the age of 37, Don’s wife Heather Schwabe was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a chronic liver disease caused by progressive inflammation and scarring of the bile ducts in the liver. The cause is unknown but often the diagnosis is linked to a prior diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease. Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) leads to liver damage and, eventually, liver failure. Liver transplant is the only known cure. The time from first diagnosis to liver transplant is 12 to 18 years, on average.

Known for her eternal optimism, Heather tried not to think about the eventual and perhaps inevitable need for a liver transplant. That need came much sooner than anyone would have expected when Heather was diagnosed with bile duct cancer, a known complication of PSC, in July 2009 at the age of 40. Heather’s doctor from Boise, who is also a family friend, delivered the news. He and her doctors in Seattle referred them to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Within two weeks, Heather and Don arrived at Mayo Clinic and began learning the implications and treatment options for Heather’s disease. It was quickly determined that, in addition to undergoing chemotherapy treatment for her bile duct cancer, Heather would soon need a liver transplant.

What neither of them would have imagined at that time was that Don would end up being Heather’s donor, and their surgeries were scheduled on the 18th anniversary of the date they met.

Don walking to see Heather after surgery

Seeing each other right after surgery

Here are a few video clips of Heather and Don telling their story – a story about the gift of love and life.

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7 Responses to “A Gift of Love, and Life”

  1. Morgan Says:

    awsum story!i was recently diagnosed w/psc abt 1yr ago but it is aggressive& we believe it has been active for several yrs. i hav been a mayo-rochester pt. for almost 13yrs anyway due to my 1st diagnosis(@age 21) ulcerative colitis,(which turned cancerous),chrohn’s,and a severe auto-immune disease,(tht apparently caused all3 of the prior!),in which my immune system attacks itself&me! i hav had 11 surgeries @mayo-Rochester& finally seemed 2 b doing well and redy 2 move on,(@ least for a while),! until PSC! of everythg i’ve been thru-psc hit me harder and stopped me n my tracks faster than anything else!i wz not xcited abt my liver trnsplnt & the fact tht there wz nthng else they cud do 4me!anyway-2 the point!..my childhood best friend,Jenny,is going thru the process of being my donor-IF i dont need a FULL liver! ur story touched me cuz,being sik 4 so long,u hear alot of people offer huge things like that,but-mainly jst tryin 2 b supportive-it’s not a REAL offer. when Jenny offered, i knew it wz real& it wz a huge deal! same 4 u! how amazng! : ) anywy-jst wntd 2 say hw happy it makes me 2 c two people who luv each other-on the other side of what i’m facing-a success & doing so well! congrats & thanx 4 helpin me out by showing this!4real!i cried, and i dnt even knw u!hope lots of people like me see this!ur both awsum! gud luck!xoxo ; )

  2. Ashley Says:

    Thank you for sharing. I will be donating part of my liver to my mother on June 3, 2010. She has PSC as well.

  3. Citra Schwabe Says:

    What an amazing and inspiring story!!!!!
    (and Kurt said you should be on OPRAH!!!!) 🙂
    We love you both!!!!

  4. Jim Lawrence Says:

    Don and Heather…. LOVED THE VIDEO, Char kept bawling, so I had to turn it up.

  5. Leann Says:

    I didn’t know that you guys were going to be celebrities on YouTube. I think it’s awesome that you’re trying to get the message out about live donors! Both of your rock! Love you both.

  6. Carmen Rivera Says:

    Don, Heather, I know in part how you guys are feeling right now. I gave my sister a kidney many years ago and the transplant was a very succesful one. I want to tell you that you are blessed in being able to share this gift. Best Wishes, Carmen from Puerto Rico

  7. Kuch Says:

    Way to go Don (you are still my hero:) !!!! Best of luck to both of you –

    Peace, Kuch

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