2018 Flavors of Northeast Ohio LIVEr Champion: Mindy Stella
Mindy Stella was at the appointment with her mom and dad, Jill and Tom Arnold, when they received the news that her father had Liver Cancer, Non-Alcoholic’s Cirrhosis, and would need a liver transplant and unfortunately, time wasn’t on his side.
In the short term, Tom could be treated with Chemotherapy to try to contain the cancer to buy him time. “The risk we ran was the longer we waited, the higher the likelihood the cancer could spread, and he would no longer be a candidate for a transplant of any kind,” Mindy says.
For that reason, Tom was told a living donor would be his best option.
Mindy, her two sisters and her brother-in-law, Bryan, had all volunteered to be his donor. Bryan was the first to be selected for testing. After several weeks of testing, he was told there were some risks. The size of Bryan’s liver was not optimal and risks had outweighed the benefits.
During this time, Tom was getting sicker. “You could see him slowing down, losing weight, the yellowing of his skin…it was heart-breaking to watch and a helpless feeling,” recalls Mindy. “I was watching my dad age before my eyes.”
When Bryan was not a match, it came down to Mindy and her sisters. Mindy was the next person selected for testing.
“I remember thinking in that moment, it could be me,” Mindy says. “I prayed I was a match.”
Her prayers were answered: She was!
“When it was confirmed I was a match, I had a sense of peace with it and knew the outcome was going to be in our favor,” Mindy says.
As a mother of two, it was a big decision to be her dad’s living donor. But she never second-guessed the decision.
“I was confident it was the right thing to do,” Mindy says. “He’s my dad and without a liver, whether it was from me or someone else, he wouldn’t fare well.”
She had also watched her friend and sorority sister, Traci Tigue, co-founder of BGVT, go through the process the year prior which gave her even more confidence and hope throughout the process.
“It was almost a year to the day that Traci donated a portion of her liver to her son, Brodie, that I donated to my dad,” Mindy says. “I do not believe that was just by chance. Someone bigger had a hand in orchestrating all of this. I truly believe I was prepared for this day long before it came.”
Within a few weeks of finding out she was a match, it was time for the big dual transplant surgery where Mindy would donate 60% of her liver to her father.
“I knew I was in the best possible hands I could be at the Cleveland Clinic. I was reassured every step of the way.”
The surgery was a success and Tom improved very quickly after receiving the transplant.
“It was amazing that in a few days, his color was coming back,” Mindy says. “He had a smile again. He was my dad again!”
Being a living organ donor, paired with the transplant experience – has taught Mindy to fight through the hard times and look for the silver lining in all situations.
“I am beyond grateful to be a living organ donor for my dad. I think most people, if given the opportunity, would do the same thing. I have watched him go back to all the things he loves. Boating, gardening and most importantly, being a grandpa to his four grandkids,” Mindy says. “He has a second lease on life and he is making the most of every moment. We have our dad back. He’s full of life and he is Cancer Free! I get to watch my kids grow up with their grandpa teaching them to fish, boat and love life on the water.”
“No matter where your life takes you, tough times are going to come,” Mindy says. “No one is immune to that. If you can open your eyes to the people that surround you, those that may come into your life at the perfect time, the circumstances you have at hand; you can find the silver lining, a lesson to be learned, and you’ll find you aren’t alone.”
The backwards L-shaped scar on her stomach is a constant reminder that life can change in an instant. But we can do our part by opening our minds to the possibilities of organ donation.
“Live with intent and never take a moment for granted” Mindy says. “If given the chance, I would go back and do it all over again; without question. Stay strong and live with a big faith. Thank you to all of those at the Cleveland Clinic who saved our dad’s life.”