MARATHON (WAOW) -
Many of us spend our lives searching for our perfect match. For one central Wisconsin woman, that search was a matter of life or death.
Imagine waiting every day of every week for a phone call.
“We were wearing pagers and had our cell phones on all the time,” said Susan Jilk of Marathon.
Imagine a heart dropping feeling every time that phone rang.
“It was just, run, this might be it, this might be it,” said Jilk.
For Jilk, that was her life. But her life, was running out.
“I was very ill,” explained Jilk.
It was because of a rare form of cancer.
“It's called primary sclerosis and cholangitis,” said Jilk. “In 2012, I went through 30 radiation treatments in three weeks."
She needed a liver to survive.
“Mayo clinic had suggested we look for a living donor,” explained Jilk.
So, she turned to the one place she felt safe: church.
“One Sunday during mass the pastor had told the congregation my story,” said Jilk.
“Without hesitation, I said I would like to see if i qualify,” added Lori Callaway.
That Sunday, Jilk found her lifeline.
“I couldn't believe it at first. I thought, I'm not deserving of anyone putting their life on the line," said Jilk.
Callaway didn't even know Jilk. But, that didn't matter. You see, organ donation had run in her family. This was something she had to do.
“I often ask myself why are people so quick to say no,” said Callaway.
She didn't say no. The journey began.
“The first thing I had to do was lose 66 pounds before they'd even talk to me,” explained Callaway.
So, she walked Rib Mountain every day.
“Sometimes I would walk it twice a day,” she laughed.
“At that point in time, I lived for Sue.
It took 8 months. But, she reached her goal.
“I called her up in January and I said, I'm ready. Let's go."
So the two embarked on the next step, together.
“It was a lot of testing,” said Callaway.
Dozens of doctors were poking her, prodding her, trying to figure out if she was the one.
“It was worth it,” said Callaway.
“So then, it was a matter of waiting,” added Jilk.
They were waiting for another phone call.
"I got the call when I was waiting for Sue and her sisters to go to dinner,” explained Callaway. “I did not want to have to leave that seat, get in the car and tell them that it just was not going to work."
Lori wasn't a match.
“My liver was just a little too large.”
But Callaway hadn't come this far to quit now.
“He put me in this situation so I could help Sue,” said Callaway. “Help her figure out and get the funds to find someone to match."
So, she organized fundraisers, took Jilk shopping, and brought meals weekly. All the while, Jilk continued to wait.
“There's a lot of bad days, I know there was a lot of bad days,” said Callaway.
Until that phone rang one more time.
“I was laying on the sofa and the guys were out grilling out when the phone rang it was my transplant surgeon,” explained Jilk.
A liver was ready.
“I'm thinking this must be some kind of joke. We've been waiting for this for so long and now its here and I don't know how to act, I don't know if I should laugh or if I should cry," said Jilk.
This time they were waiting on her.
“They said how long till you get here? I said, in a matter of hours," recalled Jilk.
It's been 9 months since Jilk underwent liver transplant surgery.
“Clean bill of health at this point,” said Jilk.
She has a new lease on life, a new liver, a new friend.
“We'll be friends forever, no matter what happens, we'll be together," said Jilk with tears in her eyes.
“I value our friendship. It's not a good circumstance of how it came about. But, it's a good thing."
A life-saving thing.
Susan Jilk and Lori Callaway, both Someone You Should Know.
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