Recovering from Receiving the Gift of Life

Finding herself 100 miles away from home fighting for her life, there were days not that long ago that 67-year old Marie Williams had doubts that she would ever return home to her native Baltimore.

I was just like you,” shares Marie about her sudden decline of health. “I was walking one day and breaking down the next.”

resizedSeveral months after being diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver due to complications of an autoimmune disease, Marie was rushed to a local hospital in Baltimore on Christmas Day 2014. She was told that a liver transplant was her only chance at survival, and that without one, her life expectancy was only three months. She was transferred to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) in January 2015. With the rapid declining of her health, Marie was placed on the top of the transplant waiting list. Remarkably several days after being placed on the list, Marie received a liver transplant.

Although the transplant saved her life, Marie required rehabilitation in order to regain her mobility and strength again. Days after her transplant, Marie began her rehabilitation journey with acute care therapists at HUP.

“At the hospital, therapists taught me how to use a walker and showed how to walk after transplant,” says Marie. “It taught me things I would have never known during recovery. It was a big help.”

Shortly after surgery, Marie was transferred to Penn Rehab, the official inpatient therapy provider of Penn Medicine, to continue her road to recovery. Bill, Marie’s husband, stayed at the Clyde F. Barker Transplant House during Marie’s transplant journey.

“It’s a fantastic feeling knowing that my wife was recovering at a place where I knew she was in good hands,” shares Bill. “The staff has been fantastic here.”

During her 12 day stay, Marie works with physical and occupational therapists to regain the skills needed to return home.

“I loved my therapists. They do not slack off and are continuously empowering me to push myself,” says Marie. “Just a few days here and I were able to make chicken salad during therapy without a walker.”

Physical therapist Brittney Lunney worked with Marie during her inpatient rehabilitation journey.

“Marie had such a vibrant attitude that shined during therapy. Trust and patient communication, is so key during therapy. Patients come here because they trust that we’re here to help them get better, and that they are here because they want to get better,” says Lunney. “We work together as a team to ensure the patient can work on things that will help them return to activities they want to do again.”

After two months in the hospital, Marie and Bill were finally able to return home to, because of the generosity of an organ donor.

“We were sent into the unknown during this journey. But we grew with more knowledge,” says Bill. “We brought Marie to Philadelphia in an ambulance and now I can bring her home together in our car.”

As Marie’s physical therapist, Brittany is glad to know Marie can return home to the life that she was living prior to her hospitalization.

“Being a physical therapist is rewarding. It is great to see progress and people return to previous life style and function that they experienced previous to their illness. It is nice to see people get better.”

Marie looks forward to returning to work as a hairstylist but knows that her life has forever been impacted because of the Penn Medicine continuum of care.

“When something like that happens, your life changes and feels it’s more important. Before you take everything for granted,” shares Marie. “I can spend more time with my husband because of my donor.”

by Patrice Bendig