Brock Gets His Energy Back After Successful Liver Transplant
"I loved Jefferson immediately. It just felt like the place to be"
Brock Barber was 35 years old when a routine physical revealed a very low platelet count. At first, doctors suspected leukemia but then discovered it was a form of liver disease.
"They told me that with diet and medication, I shouldn't have major problems for perhaps a long time — but that it could act up in the future," he recalls.
From age 35 to 47, Brock did what the doctors advised him to do. And he continued to live his life — working as a police officer for Hamilton Township, New Jersey, and raising three children with his wife, who is a nurse.
By 2003, Brock was starting to feel much more tired, which doctors attributed to his liver condition. At that time, Brock decided to make a lifestyle change. He made plans to retire from the police force and to spend six months relaxing and unwinding before starting a new position with Hamilton Township Schools. In the meantime, he decided to treat his wife and kids to a two-week vacation in Hawaii.
Things didn't go according to plan, though.
Just a month and a half after he retired, Brock had his first bout of liver failure and ended up hospitalized for encephalopathy — mental confusion that results when toxic substances normally removed by the liver accumulate in the bloodstream. Physicians urged Brock to see Dr. Victor Navarro, medical director of the Liver Transplant Program at Jefferson. But Brock knew that being listed for a transplant would prevent him from making the much-anticipated trip to Hawaii. He put off the call and finally scheduled an appointment for after his family vacation.
"I went to Hawaii, but I really shouldn't have gone," he recalls. "I didn't realize how sick I was."
He spent much of the trip inside the air-conditioned hotel room.
Back in New Jersey, Brock soon headed to Jefferson for his initial evaluation.
"I loved Jefferson immediately," he says. "It just felt like the place to be. My wife had the same feeling about how they took care of us and how they treated us."
He was listed in September 2004 and waited a total of 11 months for a new liver. During that time, he says he kept getting worse — so much so that he voluntarily relinquished his driver's license and wasn't able to begin his new job with the school district. ("My new 'career' was trying to stay alive," he quips.)
"In the 11 months I was on the list, I was hospitalized four times for at least seven or eight days each time," he says. "I was very hard to manage medically. I'm glad that my wife is a nurse. She did an excellent job taking care of me at home."
In April 2005, Brock received his first call about an organ; he was on standby for a transplant. That organ went to the primary candidate, though, and it wasn't until July 29 that he received the call that he was the primary candidate for a liver. At the time, he and his wife were at their bungalow at the Jersey Shore. Brock ended up getting a chopper ride to Jefferson courtesy of a family friend who works for the New Jersey State Police.
His transplant surgery — performed by Dr. Cataldo Doria — spanned 14 hours and involved extensive venous and arterial bypasses due to blood clots in Brock's body. After the surgery, Brock spent 30 days in the hospital and then headed home to begin his journey to full recovery.
During the recovery, he wrote an anonymous letter to his donor's family and soon received a reply from the donor's mother. They continued to correspond and eventually signed waivers with the Gift of Life Donor Program that enabled the families to exchange phone numbers and meet face to face. Brock describes the encounter as highly emotional.
"You're celebrating, and they're grieving. But through this process, we exchanged stories and are still friends."
Within a year of his surgery, Brock says he started to feel the difference. He got his driver's license back. He even started to get a bit stir-crazy — and was soon completing applications for part-time jobs.
Approaching the five-year anniversary of his transplant, Brock says he feels better now than he did at age 35.
"Once I got the new liver and it was functioning properly, my energy level came back," he explains. "I never realized how much energy I didn't have!"
These days, he's plenty busy, working two part-time jobs and volunteering as a lecturer and educator for two organ donor programs in New Jersey.
For more information about receiving a liver transplant or serving as a donor, please call 215-955-8900.