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Stories: Mac

The ultimate gift

Mac Chavarria is a typical baby boomer. He lives life to the fullest … and he’s one of the 2.4 million Americans born between 1945 and 1965 who got hepatitis C, when public awareness of the disease and its causes was in its infancy and there were few effective treatments.

Mac contracted Hep C in the early 1970s. Initially his symptoms sent him to the hospital, but as the years went by the symptoms were no longer active and he pretty much forgot he had Hep C.

“I’ve always been extremely active,” says Mac. “I loved living in California and surfing the big winter waves in San Francisco. Surfing is my first love, but when I moved to Washington, I took up snowboarding, too. My Hep C was dormant and had no symptoms, so my life seemed normal.”

About 10 years ago, when a routine blood test again showed that Mac had Hep C, his doctor referred him to Kris V. Kowdley, M.D., a world-renowned leader in Hep C research and treatment. By that time, medical advancements and new medications made it possible to treat—and even cure— Hep C.

Mac’s disease had been present for so long, Dr. Kowdley prescribed two drug therapies to kill the virus. Although the therapy worked and Mac was virus free, Hep C had damaged his liver. When a biopsy showed he had cancer in his liver, Mac’s next appointment was with Marquis Hart, M.D., director of the Swedish Organ Transplant Program.

“Dr. Hart told me I would probably continue to develop more lesions,” says Mac. “He also told me that I was an excellent candidate for a transplant because I don’t smoke, I don’t take drugs and I exercise. So I went on the transplant waiting list.”

The first liver that became available in April 2015 was not a perfect match for Mac.

“We were given an option of accepting or declining the liver because it was considered an ‘at-risk’ liver—just like the one I already had,” says Mac. “So my wife Jane and I decided to wait. We prayed for a healthy young liver. I even got specific … I prayed for a healthy young liver from Hawaii.”

Three months later, Mac and Jane got the call they were waiting for and within 24 hours, Mac had a healthy new liver. To their surprise, it came from a 20-year-old Hawaiian man. Although he missed the surfing season, by winter Mac was snowboarding again.

That life-altering event had a tremendous impact on both Mac and Jane. “It was probably harder for Jane than for me,” says Mac. “So we really appreciate the kindness and compassion everyone at Swedish showed both of us. We were so impressed with the doctors, the transplant coordinator and all of the nurses. And, we also have profound gratitude for my organ donor and his family.”

Recently, Mac went surfing in Hawaii. Two sea turtles surfaced and swam next to Mac’s surfboard. “In Hawaiian culture, the sea turtle is a guardian spirit and a symbol of good fortune, longevity and continuation of life,” says Mac. “That unique experience helped me realize how fortunate I was to have my new ‘Hawaiian liver.’ It also motivated Jane and me to help raise awareness of Hep C and to use philanthropy to show our immense appreciation for my incredible transplant team at Swedish.”

Together, supporters like Mac, Jane — and you — give our patients access to extraordinary health care and hope for a healthy tomorrow. To learn more about how your gift is making a difference, contact Duncan Robinson, philanthropy officer, at 206-386-3527 or Duncan.Robinson@swedish.org.  

HEPATITIS C SCREENING: Baby boomers and individuals who have had contact with blood carrying the Hep C virus are at risk for Hep C infection. Hep C can cause liver damage, so it’s important for at-risk individuals to be screened. Today, a simple blood test can determine if you are infected and there are highly effective treatments with cure rates of 95 percent and higher. For more info about Hep C screening and treatment, visit Swedish.org/hepc and talk with your primary-care provider.