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National Organ Donor Day holds special meaning for Lyons woman

February 18, 2019

This story is courtesy of the Lyons Mirror-Sun and written by Jessica Crimmins, Editor.

Everybody knows that February 14th is Valentine’s Day. It’s a day to give flowers and candy, maybe take your loved one out to dinner. However, it is also National Organ Donor Day, a day to celebrate those who have given a more precious gift- the gift of life.

What began as a simple haircut appointment cancellation led to the discovery of a life-threatening disease for Lynn Bovee. A resident of Lyons, and the wife of Gail Bovee, it all began in 2012, when Lynn became unusually fatigued.

“I got up one morning to go to work. Got dressed, put my makeup on, got to the door, and I couldn’t get out the door. I just couldn’t do it. I had a hair appointment with my good friend Linda (Vetick, of Shear Impressions) that day, and I called to cancel it,” Lynn began. “She told me to go to the doctor, because there was a lot of pneumonia going around.” Linda said she knew it was serious, because Lynn never missed work, or her hair appointments.

Lynn went to see Pete Thiele, a physician’s assistant at the MercyOne Lyons Family Practice, that same day. “He asked if I was able to get to Oakland to get some tests done, if I felt good enough to do that. So I went down and had x-rays. They didn’t like what they saw on the x-rays, so they had me do another test.”

She went home to await her results, and find out what the treatment plan would be. “I got a call from Pete telling me to go to the Emergency Room in Sioux City, and get there as fast as I could.”

Her work-up at MercyOne Medical Center included blood work, where she was given the alarming diagnosis of cirrhosis of the liver. “I asked how I got that, because I don’t drink!” she said.

In addition to the cirrhosis, it was also discovered that she did indeed have pneumonia. Lynn’s insurance company did not want to approve a hospital stay for her, instead asking if she could be sent home on antibiotics. “Pete felt that there was more wrong with me than just the pneumonia. He fought for me to be admitted. He fought and fought with them,” she recalled. Not giving up on what he felt was needed for Lynn’s care, he kept fighting until her insurance approved a hospital stay.

She was admitted to the hospital, and some four pounds of fluid was drained from her lungs. “They found varices in my esophagus. They found I had colon cancer, too,” she said.

The plan became for Lynn to have surgery for her colon cancer. Expected to take four or so hours, her procedure instead took nine hours. “I bleed a lot, and I was in the hospital for the next five weeks,” Lynn explained. When she returned to have her staples out, the doctor told Lynn that, due to her age and other complications, it would be better for her to see the specialists at UNMC.

Lynn noted that she had home health assistance after that, and it was Jill Johnson, RN, who helped to get her an appointment with that specialist, Dr. Sorrell. After all the testing was completed, he determined that Lynn had NASH, or Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis. This is a condition where a buildup of fat in the liver causes inflammation and scarring. While there are treatments that can help, there is no cure for NASH.

She saw Sorrell regularly from 2012 through 2015, when Sorrell announced his retirement. Her new specialist, Dr. Fedja Rochling, immediately told her that she needed to be on the transplant list.

Lynn said that the procedure to get onto the transplant list took about a week, and was grueling. “You went through every health test, psychological test. They go through your financials, everything.” She had decided that she would not ask her children to be tested to see if any were a match. “I just couldn’t ask that,” she said.

In April of 2015, Lynn got some more bad news. Daughter Chellee called to let her know that she had gone in to be tested anyway, to see if she could give part of her liver to her mother. During the testing procedure, they discovered that Chellee had thyroid cancer. Caught early, before Chellee was even symptomatic, her odds for a successful recovery were excellent.

Lynn passed the transplant testing procedures, and was put on the list. “I had asked how long I would be on the list before a transplant would happen. They told me it could be five days, it could be five years. They couldn’t really say,” she explained.

As it happened, Lynn was on the transplant list for almost five months to the day. In the year prior to getting onto the list, Lynn’s health was precarious. She was ill much of the time. Due to her liver damage, the buildup of ammonia in her system made it difficult for her to function. She relied on her husband Gail, and her good friend Linda, to help her to appointments.

In May of 2016, a family friend of Linda’s suffered a traumatic brain injury, resulting in brain death. The family, who prefers to remain anonymous, mentioned to Linda that they were going to be donating organs. As it happened, one of their extended family members was on the transplant list for a heart. The family was told that they were able to request that their loved one’s heart be designated for that family member.

“I asked if there were any other family requests that they could make,” Vetick said. Her friend’s family asked if she knew of anyone in need. Linda said, “I do- Lynn Bovee- Lynette Bovee!” She explained Lynn’s situation to the family, who agreed to make that request as well.

The day before the organs were retrieved, Linda went to the hospital to say goodbye to her friend, and spend time with their family, mourning the loss that was to come. While there, a transplant team member came in to let the family know that both of their requests for organ designation were perfect matches. “They told me the only way that the heart and liver wouldn’t go to the requested patients was if the patient- the recipient- was not well enough to undergo the transplant.”

Linda was filled with mixed emotions, sorrow for the loss of her friend, yet hopeful for a good outcome for Lynn. “I asked if I could call Lynn to tell her about the transplant,” Linda recalled. “They said that she had probably already been notified, but that I could sure call her about it.”

That caused Linda some momentary panic. She said, “What if she got the call, and her daughter can’t drive her down- I’m her back up, and I’m two and a half hours away!”

Lynn said that she got the call on that Sunday afternoon, and was told that she had three hours to get down to Nebraska Medicine. “My daughter, who is from Schuyler, has a lake house in Fremont. She was on her way to Pender when I called. So, she dropped the boys off at my house, and their dad came up to get them, and she took me down to Omaha.”

While on the way down, Lynn got that phone call from Linda. “We were both crying, and overwhelmed with emotions,” said Linda.

Lynn’s transplant took place on May 23, 2016. The surgery was anticipated to take six to eight hours. It took only four. “The liver was a perfect fit,” said Lynn. “They didn’t have to trim it, move anything around. It was perfect!”

Of the waiting, Linda said that it was difficult- she wanted to be there for her friends during their time of loss, yet wanted to be with Lynn’s family as well. She, too, was surprised when the doctors came out at the four hour mark. “I thought it would be longer,” Linda said. “I’m sure she thought the doctor was coming out to tell them I had died,” said Lynn.

“My friend was both an organ and tissue donor,” Linda noted. Over 20 people were helped by this donation, between both types. “My liver was pure mush,” said Lynn. “I don’t know how much longer I would have lasted. I owe my life to Pete, Linda, and Linda’s friend. Without Pete fighting for my first hospital stay, we might not have found out in time. If not for Linda, I’d have never made it to the top of the list.”

Lynn feels that this didn’t only save her life, but her daughter’s as well. “If Chellee hadn’t gone in to get tested, she might not have found the thyroid cancer in time,” Lynn said. “She went to save my life, and instead, saved hers.”

Speaking of her experience on the transplant list, Lynn said, “I hoped I would get the call, but at the same time, I hoped I didn’t get the call, knowing what that meant. It’s sad to have to lose somebody so that you can live.”

“But it’s so important to be a donor. If you’re able to, get on the list,” Lynn said. “It will definitely save someone’s life.”

“And even if you can’t donate an organ, you can still at least donate your tissues, help somebody that way,” agreed Linda. “Even if you’ve had cancer, or have other problems, do it. Sign up. You can still help.”

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