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2-Time Liver Transplant Patient Pays It Forward

Conor Rock

Conor Rock of Overland Park, Kansas, is no stranger to medical settings. He was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 9. At 12, Conor was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a chronic liver disease that damages the bile ducts.

In May 2012, it became clear that Conor needed a liver transplant. In August, he was added to the transplant wait list at a major medical center in the Midwest.

Conor was young, in reasonable health and had a slow-progressing disease. After several months with no movement on the transplant list, doctors began to discuss living donation as a way to prevent Conor's health from deteriorating further.

A family friend stepped forward and offered to donate a portion of his liver. Fortunately, he was a perfect match to Conor. The May 2013 transplant was successful, but difficult. The donor recovered swiftly, but Conor had complications.

"We knew very quickly that the liver wasn't going to last because of a bile duct leak," Conor says. "Recovery was difficult and my quality of life not very good, but we had to try."

Conor spent months in the hospital and then received at-home healthcare. He was frustrated.

In early 2014, Conor transferred his care to The University of Kansas Health System, where fellowship-trained surgeons and hepatologists offer the most advanced treatment options. Transplant surgeon, Timothy Schmitt, MD, director of the transplant program, and hepatologist Ryan Taylor, MD, listed Conor for his second liver transplant.

"I just wanted to get healthy and move on," Conor says.

Being young pays off

By this time, Conor's condition had declined considerably, but he kept moving forward. He enrolled in nursing school and began working toward his bachelor's degree.

"I was working out, back in class and trying to be normal," Conor says. "You just do what you've gotta do."

"Even though his condition was serious, Conor was able to compensate some because of his youth," says Dr. Schmitt. "Still, he was at risk for cancer, bleeding and other complications he wouldn't have been able to recover from. He was jaundiced and in late-stage cirrhosis. These factors placed him first on the donor list."

In October 2014, Conor received the call that a liver was available.

"This transplant was seamless," says Dr. Schmitt. "There were no problems or complications. The liver worked perfectly."

"This has changed my life for the better," Conor says. "I have an entirely new outlook on how to live."

As a nursing associate, Conor helps people in his own situation every day.

"It gave me empathy I never would have gained otherwise," he says. "I try to do my best, and I'm lucky to work with phenomenal staff. The health system's transplant program is growing and it's amazing. It's a great environment to work in and be a patient in!"

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An inspiration to patients

Dr. Schmitt says that Conor's presence is a great benefit to the transplant team and patients.

"Conor is inspirational on the floor," Dr. Schmitt says. "He's always there to give back to others. He lives for it, it seems."

Conor's role as a nursing student and transplant advocate allows him to serve today's patients as well as make a difference for future patients.

"It's really important to spread the word about organ donation," says Dr. Schmitt. "Without donors, patients would never find the key to survival. Donors are the foundation of what we do."

And raising awareness is something Conor is committed to. With his personal story, he brings advocacy and support to his chosen profession.

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