Scanning the church bulletin just before services were to begin at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Jason Stechschulte read a notice that would soon transform his life – and save the life of a fellow parishioner.
As soon as he read Carole Motycka, a 44-year-old mother of four boys in the western Ohio town of Van Wert, needed a liver transplant, Jason knew he should, and would, be the donor.
“I just had this feeling come over me that this is going to be me, that I need to do this,” said Jason, age 41, an IT development supervisor with two pre-teen children. “I was called to do it.”
And on April 23, 2018, he did.
A team of Cleveland Clinic surgeons removed the left lobe (about 40 percent) of his liver in an eight-hour operation. Then, in an adjacent operating room, a separate team of Cleveland Clinic surgeons transplanted the liver into Carole. The 12-hour, last-chance operation, occurred after treatment for advanced metastatic colorectal cancer –that spread to her liver –failed to cure her.
“I can’t ever do or say, or give enough, to thank him for what he gave to me: My new life,” said Carole, who is the senior high youth director at St. Mark’s.
Carole’s medical journey began on Easter in 2016, when she, husband Trent, their four sons and others decided to go hiking on a portion of the Buckeye Trail near their home. An active outdoorswoman, Carole completed the 17-mile hike, but afterwards, felt severe pain in her back and shoulder.
Figuring she had just suffered a sprain, from possibly tripping or stepping in a hole during the hike, and at the urging of her sister, a nurse practitioner, she went to the hospital the next day. After a battery of tests, Carole was stunned to learn her shoulder wasn’t the problem. She was diagnosed with advanced, stage 4 colorectal cancer, which had also spread into her liver.
“We were shocked. I hadn’t had any (cancer) symptoms,” recalled Carole. “The doctor made us aware what a very critical situation I was in. That my life was going to change, and there potentially wouldn’t be a lot of life left.”
Within days, Carole had an appointment with Tracy Hull, M.D., a surgeon in the Department of Colorectal Surgery at Cleveland Clinic, to discuss removing parts of her colon. “From the moment we met Dr. Hull, we felt like she really cared. That she wasn’t just a 9 to 5 physician, and I wasn’t just another patient at a big hospital.” Dr. Hull also encouraged Carole to undergo genetic testing. Test results showed she had juvenile polyposis syndrome (JPS), a genetic disorder causing growths on the lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
A multidisciplinary team worked in close collaboration to develop a multi-phase treatment plan for Carole’s complicated case. Oncologist Robert J. Pelley, M.D.; Cristiano Quintini, M.D., the director of liver transplantation; Koji Hashimoto,M.D., Ph.D., director of the living donor liver transplantation program; and Charles Miller, M.D., director of the transplant center, oversaw a series of procedures on Carole – including two surgeries to remove the tumors, and one to insert a hepatic arterial infusion pump that enabled chemotherapy to be applied directly to the liver.
By January 2017, Carole was cancer-free. However, her health deteriorated due to her severely damaged liver. By November of that year, she felt she was “slowly dying.” “I was not me anymore,” she said.
A new transplant protocol to treat liver metastases from colorectal cancer served as another treatment option for Carole. This allowed her to be a candidate for a liver transplant. Statistics from the United Network for Organ Sharing show approximately 3,000 people die annually or become too sick while waiting, to receive a liver transplant.
That led to the solicitation in the church bulletin, which compelled Jason to act. Following rounds of testing at Cleveland Clinic, and thorough, detailed briefings about the liver donor process, Jason was a perfect match – and remained an eager donor.
“I was pretty calm throughout. I wasn’t worried or nervous,” noted Jason. “Everybody was really professional, really helpful.”
According to Federico Aucejo, M.D., surgical director of the liver cancer program who developed the new transplant protocol, combining various surgical and non-surgical procedures is enabling patients like Carole to prolong survival from late-stage liver cancers. “Carole is doing very well,” he explained. “She is back to her normal life.”
Following the surgeries and a few weeks of recovery time, both donor and recipient are feeling just fine. Jason – who stated how appreciative he was of the support from his wife, Stephanie, friends and family and his employer – believes his liver donation was well worth it.
Jason added, “I gave her a liver, and received a relationship with Carole and her family in return. That was a pretty good trade off.”