GEORGETOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A Jenison man is marking a remarkable milestone — it has been 27 years since he received a liver transplant.
It’s 27 years he would not have had with his wife and family, something especially important on Father’s Day weekend.
Frank Carnes was a 41-year-old fifth-grade teacher at Jenison’s Rosewood Elementary beating his doctor at golf on July 4, 1992.
“I’ve never been sick, never been in the hospital, nothing,” Carnes said.
After playing 18 holes, Carnes said he was feeling terrible. His golf partner immediately got Carnes in for tests, which showed he was suffering from sudden acute liver failure.
By July 9, he had his transplant surgery at University of Michigan Hospital.
“They told me he has to have a liver transplant and I remember at the time, I didn’t really know what that involved,” said Mollie Carnes, Frank’s wife, also a teacher.
It turned out that Carnes had Budd-Chiari syndrome, a liver malfunction that strikes one in a million people in the U.S.
“I remember just sliding down the hall out in the hallway saying ‘I don’t know if I can do this, is he going to make it,” Mollie said.
But they did make it — thanks to the support from family, friends and the community.
“They raised money. They took care of our kids for 59 days. They bought meals for us, certificates to meals, gas, all different kinds of things. It was really amazing,” Frank remembered.
And as is often the case with critically ill people, it is the caregiver who needs support as much as the person in the hospital bed.
“I think people surrounding me were so helpful just by being there, not even trying to say ‘oh, I know how you feel’ or quoting scripture, none of that really, it was just touching me and saying ‘I’m here’ that was really helpful,” Mollie said.
When he got home, more than 300 people came out to line 20th Avenue to welcome him home.
He was 120 pounds and had to relearn how to walk, but he was back in the classroom by January of 1993.
“I’d see people down there in therapy that were much, much worse than I was and going through a whole lot more than I did,” Frank said.
The Carnes reached out to the family of the donor, but they didn’t want to talk. That’s not unusual since most liver donors are a result of a traumatic death.
He estimates he has taken 135,000 pills over 27 years, but that is what has made it so he’s could see the milestones of marriage, graduations and careers of his son and daughter.
“It’s just exciting to think that my dad has been around as long as he has to see all this and we are always talking as a family about how he is a medical miracle,” said Jessica Rowley, Frank and Mollie’s daughter. “I would like to get him a liver cake for his anniversary, but I don’t know if that’s something he’d like to do.”
24 Hour News 8 contacted U of M, Gift of Life and the American Liver Foundation to see if Frank is Michigan’s longest surviving transplant recipient, but no one can confirm it.
There are cases from other parts of the world of people going more than 40 years with a transplanted liver. Transplant technology is advancing, so we will likely see a lot more stories like this.