Kindness of strangers is his only hope

September 22, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Six months ago, David Giggard was living the life of a healthy husband and father. He brought home a good salary and played ball with his sons in the back yard of their Taneytown home.

Today he clings to life while hepatitis destroys his liver. He has been hospitalized since July; his jaundiced body has dropped to 100 pounds from dehydration and ballooned to 160 from fluid retention.

Mr. Giggard, 27, is relying on the kindness of a stranger to save his life -- he must have a liver transplant.

While he lies in the intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, his wife, June, visits his bedside and walks the halls. Communication between the couple, married nine years, is often limited to clenched hands and "Hi, baby, I love you."

His boys, Michael, 6 and David Jr., 8 -- too young to visit their father -- are in the care of a family friend. Mrs. Giggard has placed a family photo, taken last Christmas, at her husband's bedside.

"We had a good life," said Mrs. Giggard.

The job with its health insurance, the family car and the good life have all disappeared. Days now consist of catastrophic illness and rising debt.

"At this point, his liver is not functioning well enough to keep him alive," said Dr. Robert A. Wood, Mr. Giggard's primary physician for 10 years. "He is not leaving the hospital without a new liver."

Dr. Andrew S. Klein, chief of transplantation at Hopkins, said Mr. Giggard "is totally at the mercy of someone else's mercy."

Mr. Giggard shares "most critical" status for a liver transplant with two other patients. More than 100 Marylanders need a new liver and 900 are waiting for other organs, said Joyce Tarrant, public affairs director at the Transplant Resource Center in Baltimore.

Every day Mr. Giggard's condition deteriorates, making him less likely to survive surgery. In the two months since doctors determined a transplant was necessary, complications have weakened his lungs and kidneys.

"If we had gotten an organ for him right away, [odds for] his long-term survival were greater than 80 percent," said Dr. Klein. "Now, in a weakened state, they are much less, maybe between 50 and 70 percent. It also costs twice as much to transplant the very sick."

Ms. Tarrant calls the situation "a real Catch 22." She urges potential donors to register with the resource center or with the state Motor Vehicle Administration. Registration is as simple as signing donor status on a driver's license application.

"It is a crime to bury the dead with good organs, when people are near death because they need those organs," said Ms. Tarrant.

The Giggard family is pleading for awareness of the donor program.

"He can't ask, so I am," said Mrs. Giggard. "I want people to understand how important it is to be a donor. I didn't know until this happened," she said.

Mrs. Giggard spends every day and night at her husband's side.

Mr. Giggard contracted common variable immune deficiency, "a fairly rare disease," as a teen-ager, said Dr. Wood, a pediatric immunologist. Mr. Giggard received monthly infusions of gamma globulin "to replace what his system can't do."

Mrs. Giggard said her husband may have contracted hepatitis C from a tainted batch of the medication. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver and can have a number of causes.

The health problems are destroying the family finances.

Mr. Giggard worked for the Frederick County Health Department until May. Now, on unpaid leave, he can no longer afford health insurance. Mr. Giggard is receiving some medical assistance, which would help pay for a liver transplant.

The family has lost their car, phone service has been cut off, and Mrs. Giggard said she has asked for a bank moratorium on the mortgage.

Mrs. Giggard devotes her energies to helping her ailing husband in whatever way she can.

"For nearly 10 years, I have taken care of him, but now I can't," said Mrs. Giggard. "I watch his pain and I can't do anything."

Information: Transplant Resource Center, (410) 242-7000.

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