Te Puke liver patient saved by transplant at Auckland City Hospital from Australian donor

By Martin Johnston

When Epi Ronaki was put on the waiting list for a liver transplant, he had just days to live.

As it turned out, a liver from a deceased donor in Australia became available, was flown across the Tasman, and was installed and working inside him 46 and a half hours after he joined the wait-list.

The 26-year-old teacher aide and sports co-ordinator from Te Puke is now recuperating in a flat at Transplant House near Auckland City Hospital with his partner, Alesha Williamson, a nurse currently on maternity leave, and their two children aged 14 weeks and 5 years.

Epi was in bed for a week with fatigue before the seriousness of his liver disease, later found to be hepatitis B, was discovered. He had been to Tauranga Hospital and returned on Saturday July 9.

At first he wasn't much of a priority in the emergency department, Alesha recalls, until blood results came back showing how sick he was. He was taken to the intensive care unit and put on life-support to await an air ambulance.

"The consultant said 'Now is the time to call people'. When you get told that from a health professional, you know it's bad."

Epi arrived at an Auckland City Hospital ICU in the early hours of Sunday July 10.

"At 4am on Sunday the consultant said he had two to seven days to live without a new liver. By the Monday the next consultant said two days - 48 hours. He was listed on the transplant list at 6am on the Sunday and he was first on the list for the next liver that came up in New Zealand or Australia."

"We were notified at 6am on the Monday there was a liver but they couldn't guarantee it because the retrieval team have to go and see it first. We found out at 6pm they had seen it and it was all good."

The operation to remove his failed liver began at 7pm and the transplant was completed, nine and a half hours later, at 4.30am on the Tuesday. But there was more. Epi had to be taken back to theatre to deal with blood-flow problems with the liver. He had also had problems with his kidneys and pancreas and later an infection in his 30cm-long surgical-incision wound.

But things are on track now and Epi is reflecting on his brush with death. He wants to write - the organ donor service will pass his letter on - to the anonymous family of his Australian donor to express his thanks for them, through their tragic loss, allowing his life to be saved.

"I'm grateful to have a second chance at life; not everyone gets that opportunity," says Epi. "I'm happy to be here to see my kids grow up, and thankful to my partner for everything that she's done. It puts everything in perspective. I'm going to spend more time with my family."

Alesha says the option of a live donor had been considered and there was a flood of offers from family and friends.

"We had heaps of people coming forward, to the point where the coordinator couldn't cope with all the phone calls she was receiving ... to see if they fitted the criteria. She said, 'You need to tell them to stop'."

The couple expressed their thanks to all the people and groups who have supported them through their ordeal, including those who gave via a Givealittle cause which raised around $9900 to help with living costs.

Number of transplant operations in New Zealand in 2015:
• 12 - Hearts
• 23 - Lungs
• 45 - Livers (deceased donors)
• 3 - Livers (living donors)
• 3 - Pancreas
• 73 - Kidneys (deceased donors)
• 74 - Kidneys (living donors)

Financial donations to Epi and Alesha can be made at Epi's Givealittle page.

- NZ Herald

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