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Stories of hope

Katherine Rudolph: A daughter’s gift of love and life to her father

Dr. Stennett seated on chair with Katherine Stennett Rudolph and Stephaie Stennett Ashby

My father, Dr. Thomas “Reggie” Stennett, grew up in Mechanicsville, Virginia, where his parents instilled in him the values of getting a good education, working hard and knowing the joy of “giving back” by serving others. Unbeknownst to him this last value, “giving back”, which he would pass on to my sister and me, would one day save his life!

He went on to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to become a doctor practicing in Chester, Virginia, for 34 years, starting in the days doctors made house calls. He met my mother, Ivy, a nurse, and they married. We made our home in Midlothian, Virginia where they raised my sister and me. Life was simple and life was good for the Stennetts.

My sister and I knew our parents loved us and we chose to continue the Stennett family tradition of “giving back” and serving others. My older sister, Nancy, became a nurse like our mother. I regarded my father as my “hero” and chose a different path of service to others.

During high school I joined my church youth group and went on a medical mission trip to Nicaragua with my parents where I discovered my love of traveling, the Spanish language, and helping others. While studying at Virginia Tech after high school, I continued my parents’ tradition of “giving back’’ by taking spring break trips to Colorado to help with reforestation, to Mississippi for Hurricane Katrina relief, and two trips back Nicaragua for medical missionary work.

I graduated Virginia Tech in 2007 with a degree in International Relations and later went to Central and South America to travel and teach English. Following my travels, I became a Spanish teacher in Colonial Heights, Virginia. A few years later, I would meet my future husband, Chris, with whom we now have two children, age two and age four.

Life was good until an unexpected event occurred to someone whom I love dearly, my hero, my dad. In February of 2022, my father who retired in 2018, received a medical report that his liver was failing him. Over the next four months, different medical treatments were tried but none seemed to be working. He lost fifty pounds and had weakened immensely. In June of 2022, he was at the point of giving up.

I had shared with my friends my father’s medical condition and one friend recommended I contact a doctor who was in process of sending his patients to a hepatologist doctor who specialized in treating liver diseases. I set up an appointment for my dad back in April, before his hospital admission in June 2022 and without my parent’s knowledge.

At the time of his hospital admission in June, whether by fate or a small miracle, my father mentioned to me he was interested in seeking other medical treatment options. He agreed to see the doctor.

At the appointment, Dr. Matherly told my father he needed a new liver and was a good candidate for being a recipient for an organ transplant, which he agreed to, understanding time was of the essence and finding a suitable donor may take a lot of time. The doctor mentioned the possibility of a living liver donation since the liver is able to regenerate, and having a family donor increases the probability of the organ transplant being accepted by the recipient.

Immediately and without hesitation, I courageously volunteered to be the organ donor and spoke up with an enthusiastic “sign me up!”

From August to December 2022, my father and I went through a multi-step screening process to ensure we both were educated on the procedure and what to expect. The process included psychologic exams as well as physical exams such as blood tests, MRIs and CTs.

In December of 2022, the review board approved of the liver transplant between my father and I and it was scheduled it on January 10, 2023. Our transplant surgery would become only the 2nd robotic liver transplant operation at this hospital. This would mean a less invasive surgery, smaller incisions, and an improved recovery period.

The morning of the operation I prayed for God to be with the doctors, my father and for my entire family to be able to accept whatever the outcome of the transplant. My mom and sister hailed me as the “hero” of our family although I do not see myself as one. My husband Chris said he understood and respected me for my decision. Our oldest child understood when she was taken to visit in the hospital she was there to help make ‘’g-daddy’’ feel better.

The operation took just under six hours as the donor and recipient each had separate rooms and separate medical teams. Our doctors worked together and thankfully the transplant was a success. After the surgery, which placed 65% of my liver into my father, he said lovingly to me “thank you” and as I was taken in a wheelchair to recovery I gave him back a “thumbs up”.

He then waved back to me as only a father grateful beyond words could do. The short-term pain after surgery was worth the joy I have in my heart that my father is alive, recovering and has a healthy future. This seemed like a second miracle happening in my life.

The medical treatment my father and I received was “exemplary”. Follow-up doctor visits for my father and I have shown evidence of a successful transplant. My father is projected to be fully recovered by July, 2023 and my doctors say I am recovering well. Life is simple and life is good for our family again.

I share my story with the hope that it will inspire others to become an organ donor, and also select “yes” to be an organ donor when renewing your license.

Hand-drawn heart
Liver, Stories

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