FOWLER, Ohio — “Is it working?” asked Brian Eucker, lying on a hospital bed in Cleveland.
“You’re awake, aren’t you?” was the surgeon’s reply.
If his new liver wasn’t working, Eucker wouldn’t have regained consciousness, something that didn’t occur to him before he went under the knife.
After nearly eight hours of surgery, he was alive and thankful.
You never know when the need is going to hit you or your family, said Eucker, the former owner of Hartford Orchards in Trumbull County who received a liver transplant in 2008.
For Eucker, a second chance is no joke. He was really sick for about a year before he got on the donor list. At the same time, he was going through some financial issues, getting a divorce and struggling to manage the 150-acre orchard.
Finally, he was diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
It may have been the chemicals he was exposed to in the orchard, or a side effect of a diet, Optifast, he was on for some time, he said. Whatever the cause, his liver functionality faded fast.
Every couple weeks, he would go to the Cleveland Clinic and they would take fluid out of him — siphoning off eight to 10 liters at a time.
He describes the liver as the oil filter of your body — once it has too much fatty buildup, the liquid isn’t filtered and disposed of properly.
“My whole body was swollen, holding liquid the liver wasn’t filtering,” he said. “My calves were more than 17 inches around.”
Eventually it got so bad, he was put on the waiting list for a transplant.
There are about 30,000 people on the organ donor waiting list nationally. Of those, 80 percent are waiting for a kidney.
An estimated 22 people die each day while waiting for an organ.
“I was a lucky one,” he said.
He was on the waiting list for only three weeks.
On Sept. 4, 2008, Eucker received a new liver.
“The last thing I remember before the anesthesia kicked in, was saying a prayer for my donor and their family,” he said.
A day after his second anniversary of the transplant, he met the family of his donor, a 72-year-old grandma.
“If I get emotional, that is just the Mary in me,” Eucker said, as he wiped away tears.
“She was planning her 50th wedding anniversary and died three weeks prior.”
Eucker now volunteers for Lifebanc, an organization he worked with to get his transplant. Lifebanc serves 21 counties in northeast Ohio. He attends educational events and encourages people to register as organ donors.
“What is the point of burning the parts up or burying them, when someone could use them?” Eucker said.
A common myth among farmers about being an organ donor is that they are too old, he said.
“The oldest donor was 98 years old. Just sign up and let the doctors decide.”
According to DonateLife.org, 95 percent of Americans think being an organ donor is a good idea, but only 56 percent of are registered.
“The greatest gift you can give someone is a second chance,” he said. “It is a gift from God.”
A common myth among farmers about being an organ donor is that they are too old.
“Farmers are in a high risk occupation — even more reason to make sure you’re a donor,” he said. “If a tragedy strikes, that loss could mean life for someone else or many others.”
Fifty people can be helped by one donor. The eight organs can save a life and many other body parts, such as corneas, tendons and tissue, can change a life for the better, he said.
Eucker is now a participant in the Transplant Games of America, a set of competitions and events for transplant recipients. In 2016, the event was hosted in Cleveland and this year he hopes to compete in Utah in August.
He often thinks about the 22 people a day who die on the organ transplant list, and as he approaches his 10-year anniversary, he is thankful.
“There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think about Mary,” he said. “And, the thousands of people laying on a hospital bed, waiting for a second chance.”
Trumbull County Farm Bureau raises funds in Eucker’s honor
To support Brian Eucker’s cause, the Trumbull County Farm Bureau hosted a Harvest 5K run and walk last October and contributed the profits to LifeBanc.
Eucker is a former county Farm Bureau board member and continues to stay involved as much as he can.
Marsha Stanhope, a fellow board member who grew up on a farm in Kinsman, volunteered to lead the event planning. She also worked with Ashtabula, Lake and Geauga Farm Bureaus to promote the event and seek sponsorships.
They hosted the event at the Geauga Co. fairgrounds.
At the event, sponsors had a chance to speak and Eucker was there sharing his passion and advocating for participants to register as organ donors.
The Farm Bureau donated $500 to Lifebanc with a goal to increase this year, said Stanhope.
This year’s event will be Oct. 13.