An unplanned career change displaced him from his job as an editor of a group of local community newspapers, so James began working the overnight shift at Walmart to bridge the gap. Not long after, he was hired at his local post office as a postal clerk, working 10-12-hour days, six days a week.
He was doing well, for nearly a year, and the family was beginning to recover from the financial setback that occurred with the loss of his newspaper career.
Until, one day, James became ill.
A few years prior, he had routine blood work that revealed a rare blood disorder called essential thrombocythemia, a condition that causes bone marrow to produce platelets beyond safe levels. He and his wife, Karen, still didn’t know why it was happening, but a visit to the hematologist confirmed that he was asymptomatic and the doctor didn’t proceed with treatment.
That seemingly insignificant decision would change his life.
“For years, I faithfully visited that hematologist as my blood platelet numbers crept up,” he recounted. “She continually told me that I was young and asymptomatic and therefore not at a point where she could recommend a drug (Hydroxyurea) that would lower my platelet counts.”
Not long after, James and Karen discovered that the blood flow between his liver and digestive tract was clotting off, causing portal hypertension. He developed other serious side effects until his liver doctor urged the hematologist to put him on the Hydroxyurea, but it was too late.
James was in a silent fight for his life.
“On January 20, 2020, I was sitting at the dinner table and had excruciating abdominal pains - I couldn’t even eat,” he said. “I was admitted to the hospital and they discovered that my condition had caused a major vein to my small bowel to clot, and it died.”
After spending three weeks at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, the family was informed that surgery was not possible and that there was nothing else that could be done. The medical team suggested that they take James home on hospice and prepare for him to die.
Unfathomably, his wife Karen had received her second breast cancer diagnosis just two years prior. The family was reeling.
“Thankfully, my liver doctor recommended that I be transferred to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and that doctors there might be able to perform a transplant of my bowel and liver,” James told us.
He had several surgeries to remove his small bowel and the infection and made it through them very well. Eventually, he was transferred to a step-down unit where he began walking short distances with a walker and seemed to be on the mend - doctors discussed discharging him home in about two more weeks.
Then, on the night of February 23, James had difficulty breathing. He was put back on a ventilator and moved back to the transplant ICU. The next day, he suffered a global ischemic stroke, which eliminated function on his left side and limited movement on the right.
Suddenly, the two-week discharge timeline became a far-off dream. Once again, it seemed to be too little too late.
Now, James was unable to feed himself or take care of his own personal needs.
Finally, finally, James was stable enough to be transferred to inpatient rehabilitation at that Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, NJ. He received three hours of acute rehab each day with some improvements.
“After my discharge, my wife and daughters (one is an operating room nurse, the other a pharmacist), cared for me at home with the help of some terrific home health nurses and therapists. By the end of summer, I had begun taking a few steps with assistance and could feed myself. My physical therapist suggested that a second stay at acute rehab could really benefit me.”
While his insurance company initially denied the request, Karen pulled out all the stops and advocated for her husband until the stay was approved.
She was done accepting the too little too late theme for James.
That second stay was hugely impactful, and he’s now able to walk longer distances with a walker and close supervision. Getting in and out of the car is another story, though. They own a small sedan, but James is 6’5” tall. Karen, who is 5’2” herself, takes on a lot of heavy lifting in caring for James and transferring him daily.
They make it work, though, taking each day as it comes and relying on one another more than ever before. Unfortunately, accessing the bathroom at home has become an impossible feat for James. No amount of heavy lifting or daily transfers could solve this problem: it’s simply too small and narrow.
“I’m only able to get bed baths and haven’t had a real shower since my second stay at rehab,” James explained.
“Plus, Karen gets really aggressive with the scrubbing and I’d rather go back to doing it myself,” he joked. That’s 30 years of marriage talking.
Frankly, James and Karen are still trying to adjust to this new normal. A little more than 18 months ago, he was sitting at dinner eating with his wife. Today, she’s helping him maneuver around their home in a wheelchair and giving him sponge baths from bed. Oh, and kicking cancer’s butt while she’s at it.
They are exactly the sort of people Chive Charities was created to help, true underdogs taking on the challenge before them.
And no one is there for the underserved more than our community of donors. Through your monthly and one-time donations, we were able to fund an accessible bathroom for James and Karen that will make life so much easier. Sayonara, bed baths! The shower is calling James’s name.
The total impact was $27,500 - it was certainly not too little and definitely not too late. That’s a nice change of pace for James.
When we asked James what this experience has taught him, he said, “Keep your glass half-full and surround yourself with good people. My local rotary club rallied around me and my family as soon as they heard my story, even connecting me to Chive Charities. And now, because of the support of your donors, we’re able to get the help we never even imagined possible.”
A series of unfortunate events changed the course of James’s life, and he and Karen were dealt a bad hand. More often than not, the help he needed came too little too late. But not with Chive Charities.
Once again, our donors were there when they were needed most of all. Once again, our donors stepped in to create life-changing impact. It’s never too little. You’re never too late. Become part of our donor family and help make the world 10% happier. DONATE HERE.