Patient travels from New York for second liver transplant

When they began researching the top transplant programs in the nation, Jeffrey “Jeff” and Joan Labow decided IU Health was their best option.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

They came to Indianapolis six weeks prior to his transplant and Jeffrey “Jeff” and Joan Labow have decided there’s much to like about the Circle City. They enjoyed a shrimp cocktail at Harry & Izzy’s, and a hearty Italian dinner at Mama Carolla’s, took in a play at the IRT, and marveled at the murals in Fountain Square and along Mass Avenue. They walked the downtown canal, around the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, and even attended the Annual Oktoberfest.

“Indianapolis is a vibrant and cultural city – like a small New York,” said Jeff Labow. This endorsement comes from a couple who has traveled the world – the South of France, Bangkok, Rio, Italy, Germany, Spain, Alaska, and England – just to name a few of their trips. Joan Lebow is a flight attendant for Delta Airlines.

The couple met in college at the City University in New York and married 38 years ago. They’ve spent most of their lives in Westchester County where Jeff worked as a probation officer in adult crime. In addition to working as a flight attendant Joan is a registered nurse.

When it came time to begin researching transplant hospitals, they followed their doctor’s recommendations. With Joan’s nursing background, they took a deep dive into their surf and decided on IU Health.

“I just felt comfortable here,” said Jeff, about meeting with his transplant coordinator Cheri Richard and Gastroenterologist Dr. Marco Lacerda.

It was when he was in college that Labow was diagnosed with Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). The disease affects the bile ducts, a digestive fluid produced by the liver. PSC causes inflammation in the bile ducts, scars and blockage. Over time it builds up and damages the liver.

“My doctor back then told me it was deadly and I had five years to live at best and then a friend talked to me about transplant,” said Lebow. He had his first liver transplant in 1990 at the age of 40. “I had to get my state senator to see my case and I actually met Thomas Starzl,” said Lebow. Known as “the father of modern transplantation,” Starzl, was the first physician to attempt human liver transplant in 1963. His five decades of groundbreaking work set the course for most of the present day transplant surgeries.

After his first transplant, Labow was discharged in about a week and went back to life as usual. “It went well and I never looked back, but it wasn’t a great liver. There was some Ischemic damage,” said Labow. Ischemic hepatitis is typically caused when there is inadequate oxygen to the organ. In the years that followed Labow suffered constant itching from bile salt accumulation. He knew he would eventually need another transplant.

On October 10, under the care of Dr. Chandrashekhar Kubal, Labow received his second liver transplant. He remained hospitalized for several weeks and during his recovery took part in both yoga and music therapy at IU Health University Hospital.

The CompleteLife Program offers comprehensive therapies that attend to the body, mind and spirit of patients and caregivers. “It was amazing having these techniques to help in his recovery,” said Joan Labow. “He’s always been very much into music – especially jazz, blues, and rock. He hasn’t played guitar in awhile but it all came back to him in the hospital room.”

The Labows will remain in Indianapolis for several weeks and hope to do more exploring when Jeff gets stronger.

For how he says, he wants to focus on healing.

“It’s important to me to give back to others,” said Jeff. “I think the best way I can do that right now is fight to give other people hope. I think they can pick up on that vibe.”