‘You have to live like your donor is watching you’

Tim and Gail Davidson_Cropped

Liver recipient turns miracle into advocacy

After a liver transplant saved his life, Tim Davidson felt a responsibility to give back to the community and help others in his situation.

“You have to live a different lifestyle,” said Davidson, 68, of Highland. “You have to honor that gift and take care of it. You have to live like your donor is watching you.”

Davidson does that by volunteering with Gift of Life Michigan and other organ donation- and transplant-related organizations. He’s helping grow the Michigan Organ Donor Registry and build awareness about the critical need for more donors by sharing his story and the insights he’s picked up along the way. He’s spent more than 1,500 hours talking at Secretary of State branch offices and out in the community, encouraging people to sign up as donors. He also serves on the Gift of Life Foundation board and the Michigan Donor Family Council.

Some of his most rewarding work is with Henry Ford Health System Transplant Living Community (TLC), a recipient-driven program offering real-time support and lifestyle education for patients on their own transplant journey .

“When you’re going through the process, you hear all kinds of stuff and 95% of it goes over your head,” Davidson said. “You’re kind of shell-shocked; you have to hear everything 100 times. We’re not saying anything different than the medical staff – we’re saying the same thing – we’re just saying it from the perspective of someone who has gone through the process.”

Davidson started experiencing symptoms of liver failure in about 2005. His whole body was itching and he was experiencing what he describes as “crazy insomnia.”

“I had no idea what was going on,” said Davidson, who worked at an architectural engineering firm at the time. “I had no idea a transplant was in the future.”

After two years of medical treatment, Davidson was told he had end stage liver disease caused by Hepatitis C, which he suspects he contracted in the Army during the Vietnam War.

He was placed on the transplant waiting list about six months later and stayed there for more than two years without a match. He was hospitalized several times during that period; each time he would spend a few days in the hospital, get better and then go home to wait. During one of those visits – in November, 2008 – Davidson’s doctors told him he was so sick he would need to be hospitalized until a liver became available.

Two days later, Davidson received the news that his life would be saved. It was right around Thanksgiving and, while grateful for the life-saving gift, Davidson he was very conscious that another family was grieving during the holiday season.

“The one thing that bothered me the most was receiving my transplant near Thanksgiving and knowing my donor family lost a loved one at the same time,” said Davidson. “I was always afraid to talk to the donor family, because that was not a very good Thanksgiving for them.”

They, however, reached out to him a year later and he learned that his donor, Michele, was 42 when she passed away in a freak accident. She wasn’t a registered donor, but her family, knowing her kind and giving personality, said she would have wanted to help others. Michele’s gifts saved five lives.

“I’m just grateful to my (donor’s family) that they were willing to donate, to make a miracle out of a tragedy,” said Davidson. “I find that amazing. I still can’t put it into words.”

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