Two transplants, 32 years of marriage: “My bride never left my side”

A year ago Steve Kennedy wasn’t sure what was ahead. He was in and out of the hospital – admitted for more than 10 weeks. Now he’s planning a trip to Europe.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

There’s one thing Steve Kennedy wants to be perfectly clear about – he couldn’t have made it through two transplants without his wife Michelle, his four children and their spouses.

Within the span of six months he had two liver transplants and was in the care of transplant surgeon Dr. Chandrashekhar Kubal and gastroenterologist/hepatologist Dr. Marco Lacerda. The first transplant was on April 26, 2018; the second was Oct. 7, 2018.

“I love the transplant team at IU Health,” said Kennedy. “They have been so good to us. The transplant coordinators and floor nurses are amazing and believe it or not I miss them. As much as we were there, you get to know them. You pour into them and they pour into you. It is really hard to be disconnected from them.” On a recent visit to IU Health University Hospital he saw Dr. Kubal in the hallway and the two exchanged hugs.

A year after his second transplant Kennedy reflects on some of the blessings he received through transplant. He recently wrote a message thanking his wife, his children, his transplant team and his donors. Then he wrote: “If you have not signed up to be a donor, please consider this – it only takes a couple of minutes.”

Diagnosed with a combination of cirrhosis and non-alcohol fatty liver disease Kennedy’s condition resulted in encephalopathy causing him to hallucinate and suffer severe headaches and disorientation. Over time, he began losing his balance requiring constant care.

On April 26, 2018 when he learned that he would receive a transplant Kennedy wrote: “I just got the call from IU Health. They have a liver for me. We are heading that way now. . . Please pray this liver is in good shape and please pray for the donor’s family. I am so sad for them and so appreciative of the gift.”

Throughout his transplants – before, during and after – he experienced several setbacks. But looking back, Kennedy said focusing on the positives made him stronger.

“I have six transplant folks that I talk to numerous times a month – some several times a week. Three of them were transplanted around the same time. That happened because of transplant,” said Kennedy.

He and his wife met during basic training in the U.S. Air Force and were married 32 years ago.

“Another thing I realized is how the caregiver also needs care,” said Kennedy. “My bride never left my side. She is an incredible woman that is a rock. I was in the hospital just shy of 11 weeks between April 26 and mid-December. She slept in a chair either in the waiting room or next to me. There were times that I didn’t sleep more than an hour and she got up every time.”

He also learned what it was like to watch his four children during his healing process.

“It has been great to watch the kids all be such amazing and caring adults. Not just with us but with each other. They have become what parents could only hope that their kids would become. We are amazingly blessed.”

With the two transplants behind him, and his health back on track, Kennedy and his wife have spent time traveling. They enjoyed trips to Disney, a cruise, and trip to see Paul McCartney in concert. In the works is an 18-day trip to Europe this spring.

Kennedy was recently asked by Dr. Lacerda how his life has changed since his transplants.

“I was not sure how to give him a short answer, but then it hit me,” said Kennedy. “I am in a hurry but I am not in a rush – meaning I have a lot to do but not in a hurry for those things to be over. I want to help my community; I want to advance the cause of transplant and I want to see my grandchildren grow up.”