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Jerry Costello has spent a lifetime serving his community and country. After retiring, the southwestern Illinois native was looking forward to a new chapter. He started his own business and enjoyed more time at home with his family. But in 2017, Jerry noticed weight gain without a change in diet.
"I went to my doctor for my annual physical and underwent a series of tests, but had a difficult time getting diagnosed," says Jerry.
Doctors determined the problem was with Jerry's liver and began looking for a cause. Tests for hepatitis and lupus were negative. Months passed and Jerry was living with acute liver failure. He was undergoing procedures every week to drain liters of fluid that had built up in his body.
"I knew that if I didn't get the situation taken care of quickly, I would not have a good outcome," says Jerry.
A liver biopsy helped doctors determine the cause of Jerry's issues: hemochromatosis. The condition caused by inherited genes that cause the body to absorb too much iron from food. Excess iron is stored in the organs, especially liver, heart and pancreas. Too much iron can lead to life-threatening conditions, such as liver disease, heart problems and diabetes. Signs and symptoms of hemochromatosis usually appear in midlife.
"I was worried that I was losing time," says Jerry. "My family and I started doing some research: if I needed a liver transplant, where is the best place for me to receive care?"
Jerry read about Mayo Clinic in Florida and the experienced team that performed transplants. He asked his liver specialist for a referral and went to his first appointment in December 2018.
His care team in Jacksonville, Florida, outlined a plan that would save his life by transplanting a donor liver. Jerry was placed on the transplant list in January 2019 and rented an apartment with his wife just a short drive from Mayo Clinic — then prepared for a long wait. But to his surprise, about a month later while traveling through St. Louis, Jerry's phone rang — a matching liver had been identified.
"My wife and I jumped on a plane to Jacksonville," recalls Jerry. "I got to the hospital just in time, and the rest is history."
The transplant was a success. Jerry spent two and a half weeks post-transplant in the hospital as his care team monitored his new liver. His family, including children from out of state, came to his bedside, leading him to think about the origins of his new liver.
"I wrote a letter to the donor family expressing to them how thankful I am that I have a life because of their loved one, and that my wife has a husband, my children have a father, my grandchildren have a grandfather," says Jerry.
With a new perspective on life, Jerry was motivated in his recovery. His doctors prescribed a strict diet and medication regimen, and in March 2019, Jerry returned home to Illinois. Gradually, he returned to his business and to traveling — carving out more time with his family and celebrating milestones he was once unsure he'd reach.
"I am blessed," says Jerry. "I stay busy, I stay on the run and I continue to do what my doctors tell me to do."
He earned a clean bill of health at his third physical since the transplant. But for Jerry, that was only one piece of good news in 2022. He and his wife celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary and welcomed his first great-grandson and first great-granddaughter.
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