Joyce Marie Taylor
For 63-year-old Mary “Joyce” Michel life has taken on a glorious new meaning since she received a transplanted liver this past December. Her two daughters, Cari Hardison and Penny Quetel, said it was the best Christmas present ever and that the entire family will be forever grateful for all the support and generous donations from the local community during Michel's darkest moments.
Michel agreed to an interview on Friday, Jan. 11 at Old Florida Company Coffee House. Her two daughters Hardison and Quetel, family friend and chief fundraiser Sheri Mims, and coffee house owner Linda Partney were by her side.
Michel is now sporting a smile a mile wide, something she hasn’t been able to do for quite some time. She explained that her troubles started about two years ago when she had her gall bladder removed and doctors noticed there was something wrong with her liver.
After that surgery, Michel said, she began to feel “different.”
“I wasn’t myself,” she said.
Her family, she said, thought she had gone off her rocker because of some of the things she was doing while having an episode, such as storing frozen vegetables in the cupboard instead of the freezer, and basically acting like a two-year-old.
“We were thinking dementia or stroke,” said Hardison.
Michel said one time when she was in the hospital she told her husband to go out and steal a car in the parking lot and take her home.
Her body was filling up with fluids to the point she couldn’t turn over or sit up, so the fluids had to be surgically removed. One time, she said, they removed 10 liters. Another time, while at home, her body had filled up with so much fluid it was difficult for her to breathe, which resulted in a trip to the emergency room.
Michel’s name was placed on the liver transplant list at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville late last year. Two separate times the family received the much anticipated phone call to bring Michel in because a liver was available. Unfortunately, Michel’s potassium levels were so off kilter that surgery was out of the question. Doctors feared her heart would be too stressed to survive the surgery.
Two more times the phone calls came in from Mayo Clinic that a liver was available for her and it was back to Jacksonville with everyone’s fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, her dying liver was causing massive amounts of ammonia to collect in her brain, a common side effect of liver disease. She was given a drug called lactulose which flushed the ammonia out of her body.
“I had to take it every day, sometimes twice a day,” said Michel. “It was like water and caused diarrhea. I couldn’t even stand up.”
Michel’s condition severely deteriorated toward the end of 2012, and she was admitted to a hospital in Gainesville right after Thanksgiving where she stayed for a week and a half. Hardison said her mother was becoming very aggressive, hallucinating and “just losing it.” The family, she said, simply couldn’t control the situation. They were afraid for her safety and the safety of others. As Michel’s condition continued to worsen the family made a decision.
“We went and got her out of Gainesville because as long as she was there they had to take her temporarily off the transplant list because she was in another hospital,” said Hardison. “We had her home a few hours and then took her straight to Jacksonville.”
Michel was admitted to the Mayo Clinic and placed in restraints because she was so violent and uncontrollable, even kicking the nurses. With no suitable donor livers available, at one point doctors discussed with Michel and her family the possibility of implanting a high risk liver from a prostitute or prison worker because her time was running out.
A week after Michel was admitted to the Mayo Clinic the family was called to come get her and take her home. Hardison said she and her sister hopped in the car again and took off for the hour and a half drive over to Jacksonville. When they arrived to Michel’s hospital room, Hardison said her mother was pitching a fit because she was just told by the nurse that they weren’t going to let her go home after all.
Minutes later, the nurse came in and explained why. They had a liver coming in.
“That made her happy,” said Hardison. “That was the one. That was December the seventh and at five o’clock in the morning they took her into surgery.”
Hardison said she was certain, had that liver not come in when it did, her mother would have died. The surgery took about five hours and during that time Hardison and her family anxiously awaited news from the doctors about Michel. Those five hours in the waiting room were pure torture for the family, she said. They were torn between being happy for Michel because she was about to get a life-saving liver, and yet they felt sad for the other families in the waiting room who were crying because they had just received bad news about a loved one.
Alas, those five hours of waiting had a happy ending. Michel survived the transplant surgery. The new liver was a perfect fit and it was properly functioning. She spent about three weeks in the hospital recovering and was released two days before Christmas. For the next week and a half she stayed at a nearby hotel with her family so they could be close to the hospital for outpatient aftercare and finally removal of all the drainage tubes.
“Then they say, ‘You can go home!’” Hardison said with a huge smile on her face.
On Saturday, Jan. 5, Michel was back at home in Luraville.
Now it is once a week trips to a local doctor for blood tests, and once a month back to Mayo Clinic for a checkup. Within the next several months Michel said she will be taken off the majority of the medications she is on. The anti-rejection medicine, however, is something she will be on for the rest of her life. As time goes by and as Michel continues to get better and stronger, those doctor visits will dwindle down to about once a year.
“She got another life,” said Hardison. “We got our mama back.”
One of the first things Michel said she did when she got home was to toss the bottle of lactulose in the garbage.
Hardison said the only thing that got her mother through this ordeal and the deep depression she was immersed in was the knowledge that so many people were pulling for her.
“That and God,” Michel interjected.
There were many times, Hardison said, that her mother was brought to tears when she heard how the local community had stepped up to help raise funds. During Pioneer Days the family held a raffle donation for various items, including a skateboard and a rifle. Mims said many children ages six to 18 stopped by the booth.
“Even though they donated the money to buy a raffle ticket, they didn’t want the raffle ticket,” said Mims. “They just wanted to donate the money. I was so proud of all those kids.”
The same thing happened at the ReJoyce Benefit Store, which brought in about $650. Partney said many folks didn’t come to buy anything. They just wanted to donate money.
The donation jar at the coffee house garnered another $50 and local donations from the raffle amounted to nearly $1,100. Those funds helped the family pay for the hotel room in Jacksonville and transportation back and forth to the Mayo Clinic.
Mims said even Ted Yoho, U.S. Representative, District 3, came by the booth and bought a rifle raffle ticket. He told the family they could personally call him anytime if they needed anything. Yoho wound up winning that raffle and he said he was going to donate the rifle to a family member.
“The community was amazing,” said Hardison. “They just opened up their hearts.”
“She’s a walking miracle,” said Partney.
Michel said, “It’s like giving my life back to me. I’ll be able to enjoy my grandkids. I want to be around when they get married or go to college. I want to be there with them and share their joy.”
Michel still has a long road to complete recovery as her body adjusts to the new liver. The next step is to get well enough to have yet another surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder, the result of a fall she took at home prior to the transplant surgery.
Michel wants others to know that as bad as things can get, don’t ever give up hope. As for Mary “Joyce” Michel in 2013, she has definitely been ReJoyced!