• A Gift of Love, and Life

Don and Heather Schwabe

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
Don walking to see Heather after surgery
Don and Heather seeing each other right 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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