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Preston woman recovers from liver transplant

Fri, Sep 19th, 2003
Posted in Features

Karen Mathison of rural Preston received a liver transplant in July. The college senior plans on graduating with her class at the University of Wisconsin River Falls in May.

"It has been almost a nursing class on its own, stated Irene Mathison, as she reflected on the health problems of her daughter. She and her husband, Larry, have spent the better part of ten years helping their daughter, Karen, work through a maze of health problems, which have lead them down the path to their latest journey, a liver transplant. This Cherry Grove mom and dad have learned to deal with the everyday ups and downs of a sick child while still being a nurse and farmer.

Irene first became aware of Karens health problems when she was finishing the seventh grade. Her daughter had been concealing the fact that she had a constant need to use the bathroom. Irene thought it was just a flu bug going around. When the condition didnt clear up, the family sought medical attention. Tests that included running a tube down Karens intestine to observe any unusual functions showed that she had ulcerative colitis, that is, being in a constant state of loose stools. Through the 11th grade, medications were used to control the problem. The drugs acted as a kind of aspirin for the ulcers in her colon.

In time the active Fillmore Central students skin started to turn yellow. The young woman, who loved being the Falcon mascot, participated in golf, F.F.A., 4-H -including being the federations president one year, Honor Society, band, choir, and being the Beef Princess two years, was once again up against serious health risks.

More testing showed that Karen had Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis of the liver. Five percent of ulcerative colitis patients have PSC. This meant that Karen would require a liver transplant and was placed on the list at Mayo.

If things werent bad enough, Karen also started to suffer from vasculitis. Her legs would swell up, with red spots appearing. At times, she went to school on crutches. Eventually, she outgrew that hurdle.

"When people say, I know how you feel, unless theyve gone through it, its not so," stated Larry. "Its tough to see your daughter not being able to do things like the other kids." And things kept getting tougher.

In May of 2000, the teenagers colon was removed. It was no longer functional. Karen had a bag connected to her side for two months to hold her bodys waste. Making a pouch out of the small intestine to act as a holding place for movements did a reversal of the initial surgery. At times, scar tissue problems arose. Then Karen would be placed on an I.V. so food would not have to go through her system. This gave the scarred tissue a chance to heal. This had to be done a couple of times.

In January 2003 things turned critical again as Karens skin color turned bright yellow. Her blood pressure and pulse spiked and there was blockage in the liver. A small camera was inserted in her throat, into the stomach, small intestine, and bio ducts where stones and slug appeared and later removed. The family went through this again in April. This time radiation burns from the many x-rays slowed down the process.

"The cures save your life and kill you at the same time", said the dedicated mom. Too much radiation can bring on cancer. The family waited patiently for a liver donor.

The magic call came at 4 a.m. on Saturday, July 19. Karen had been volunteering time at the county fair that week. A young person had died and was a match for Karen. The match is based on such things as blood type and the physical size of the receiver and donor. At one point the family had also considered a living donor, whereby 65% of the healthy liver is harvested for the transplant. The donors remaining liver will start to regenerate after about a week. In this case, however, the potential donor became ill. The six-hour surgery went well. Karen will have to be on rejection drugs for the rest of her life. This lowers her immune system so the body doesnt reject the liver. She must take her temperature and blood pressure two times a day, and have blood tests done once a week.

It is most noteworthy that this young and resilient woman is still planning a May graduation at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls. She has been working on her Ag Marketing Communication major with a minor in animal science.

"I did what I had to do", sums up Karen at the end of the telephone receiver as this interview came to a close. She was in Rochester completing more tests and would be returning to class once more. Her bubbly voice said that good friends, a wonderful family, and just being silly sometimes have gotten her through it all.

"Oh, and be nice to the doctors and nursestheyve got it tough, too," she advised.

There will be a Benefit Supper for Karen on Saturday, September 27 from 4:30-7PM at the Harmony Community Center in Harmony. The East Fillmore Branch (#31188) of Thrivent Financial will be matching funds.

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