Friday, May 25, 2018

Transplant triumph: marking a year since a remarkable event

"Cookie and Keller," aka Christene Meyers and Bruce William Keller, once again at large in the world, here
in the caves off Malta. The two travel writers and photographers are marking a year since his transplant this week. 




A YEAR AGO, Keller had been home only a few days, from a nearly seven-hour liver transplant. While he was being "reconfigured," I kept vigil on a recliner in the Intensive Care waiting room at Scripps Green Hospital.  We'd gotten "the call" at 10 p.m. after our Friday "date night" May 13. I was toweling off from a shower.

A year ago, cause for thanksgiving

Earlier, we'd walked the beach, enjoying a meal which capped a long week of building projects for him and teaching and writing for me. We were drowsy during "Hawaii Five-O" and were heading to bed. But new plan: we checked into Scripps at midnight and by 4 a.m., surgery had begun. Alone in the waiting room. I turned on TV, wrote in my journal, watched re-runs of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," checked CNN, meditated, took a walk in the moonlight and decided against calling my family because of the hour.
Keller, above in his beloved
scuba diving mode, and,
recovering with homework.
Keller and Cookie enjoyed their traditional Friday date night.
Later that evening, they learned of a potential donor.

The nurses kept me posted throughout -- much appreciated -- and at 10:40 a.m., chief surgeon Dr. Jonathan Fisher, appeared, saying Keller had done splendidly. He speculated Keller would be in the ICU several days before moving to the main hospital for  more time. I was relieved that he would continue on
Scripps' watch.  The ponderous transplant manual had me nervous -- so much to think about, to monitor. So many meds at precise times. Changes in eating. Would he be able to maneuver stairs to our second-floor bedroom?  Should I rent a hospital bed for downstairs?  Would the pain be manageable?
Dr. Fisher and cheery P.A., Joe, w/K.
I LIKED DR. Fisher, who took time to visit with me and answer my many questions.  He's a New Yorker, and we chatted about my classes at Sarah Lawrence College and his medical studies at Columbia. We'd been prepared by a huge efficient, bright and spirited team of transplant nurses, doctors and counselors. I'd been sitting in on a support group (very helpful) and had done copious homework, taking notes at every doctor visit, developing my own mental health survival kit. Our chief hepatologist, Dr. Catherine Frenette, had held our hands gamely through the long 18-month wait for a donor.

A family reunion celebrated niece Kira's wedding in Oregon in June.
Below, Keller and our niece, Peny, count out anti-rejection meds.
OUR USUAL life of international travel was surprisingly not affected -- except for changing a few dates.  As we climbed up the list, we kept closer to home, but we got the okay six months before "the call" for our annual autumn Europe foray, a delightful trip to Malaga and a 10-day trans-Atlantic crossing. I became emotional, as waiting dragged on. Near the end of the vigil, Dr. Frenette assured us that the waiting was always difficult, but to keep the faith. All would be well. My worries would be overcome. She was right!
WHEN KELLER was transported to the ICU, he did not need the customary ventilator. I speculated this his amphibious diving and sailing life contributed to his excellent lung power. He was released from Scripps on a record-breaking third day post transplant and despite my frayed nerves, we developed a routine at home as he recovered -- walking, taking small trips, getting back on his bicycle and into the water. Stalwart, he took few pain meds and has been mostly cheerful throughout. No significant personality changes, but he is a better dancer and his musical pitch has improved!
Nationally known, award winning hepatologist, Dr. Catherine
Frenette, is Keller's chief doctor during the process.
We've had few bumps in a wonderful year with family, friends, theater, and travel. We missed only two Friday date nights near the beginning. The meds have decreased from 25 to seven. The lab checks are less frequent -- from three a week, to once, to monthly. The
blood work is monitored closely, and recently, absorption of the life-saving tacrolimus was altered when Keller took his meds with coffee rather than food. This can be life-threatening, so we closely watch it.  My lone faux pas as nurse was to decrease the tacrolimus myself because it was making him tremble. I was rightfully reprimanded. Won't repeat that.
 LIFE CONTINUES for our loved ones, with challenges, tragedies and triumphs. We attended several memorial services and I wrote 
three eulogies, including one for a dear friend killed in a car crash during a Montana snow storm.
When things go wrong, hang on  
The autumn trip to southern Europe went off as planned, five
months after the May, 2017, surgery. Here, Tarragona, Spain. 
Another friend passed away after a heroic battle with cancer.  Yet another is fighting for her life. Loved ones have gone into treatment, moved, separated, changed careers, married.  We've had the pleasure of entertaining visitors from several states. We spent Christmas with niece Amarylla and family in San Francisco, logged over 100 plays since last May, spent a wonderful five weeks in Montana and delighted in a family reunion at our niece Kira's Oregon wedding.  Our annual trip to southern Europe included a magical week in Paris in November and a return to the Folies Bergere and the Eiffel Tower.
Happy, healthy, Keller bikes around Mission Bay each Saturday. Life has resumed with all its wonders.
PETS HAVE died and our friends have grieved. Nick and Nora are approaching 13, and we know what that means.
Keller and Cookie at Sea World, enjoying each day.

More than several readers of this column asked why I refer to my partner as "Keller" and not his Christian name, Bruce. Some of you know that I have lost two husbands. (No, not misplaced.  Their ashes are in urns made by my gifted potter brother, Rick.) My first husband was Bruce. My second was William.  Keller's name is Bruce William.  Thus the "Keller" moniker.
We continue to live with gratitude, hope and the awareness that nothing is permanent, and that we are all just passing through.
Treasure each moment. Carpe diem, indeed.

UP NEXT: World famous baritone Nathan Gunn dons his
kilt and several other costume suggestions to
entertain in "Nathan Gunn Flying Solo," by musical
whiz Hershey Felder.  The show runs through
June 10 at the Lyceum in Horton Plaza, as a highlight
of the 25th annual Lipinsky Jewish Arts Festival.
Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us
Fridays when we post a new take on the arts,
nature, family and travel at whereiscookie 


  1. A truly remarkable story and one which should inspire legions. Thank you for sharing this. I trust it is finding its way into medical journals as well.

  2. To share this story and do it in such a charming fashion is no small talent. Mr. Keller, you are a lucky fella to have this woman in your court. I would guess it's a mutual admiration society.