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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    A gift for life

    Alex Kula displays the scar from a liver transplant from his uncle. Kula uses his personal story to educate students about the facts of organ donation for UA Students for Organ Donation.
    Alex Kula displays the scar from a liver transplant from his uncle. Kula uses his personal story to educate students about the facts of organ donation for UA Students for Organ Donation.

    On the outside, Alex Kula seems ordinary enough.

    The junior, majoring in molecular and cellular biology, cares about his health and loves to run. He can run six miles now and is improving that output every day.

    “”That’s nothing,”” Kula said. “”I used to be able to run 20 – before the transplant.””

    Kula received a liver transplant from his uncle a year ago and now assists with the UA Students for Organ Donation club.

    Only a handful of years ago, he was an ordinary 15-year-old who ran cross country and never thought twice about his good health.

    “”It’s just so easily taken for granted,”” he said. “”I know I did, and I never will again.””

    Kula was diagnosed with Type I diabetes and primary sclerosing cholangitis, a serious condition that can lead to liver failure.

    Although Kula and his family were surprised, they did not initially realize how serious and possibly deadly his situation was.

    Primary sclerosing cholangitis is a slow-progressing disease. When Kula enrolled at the UA two years ago, he noticed he was becoming more and more fatigued during everyday activities.

    Doctors assured his family that his condition was stable, and the need for a transplant was still over a decade away.

    All the while, Kula’s health worsened. He consistently needed more than nine hours of sleep a night to function properly, and flu-like symptoms plagued his body day after day.

    When his skin turned yellow, Kula knew something was wrong, and he was forced to leave the university with only a month left in the school year.

    “”It was a dramatic change,”” he said. “”It changed quickly.””

    The Mayo Clinic in Phoenix quickly confirmed what Kula already suspected. Not only was his liver getting worse every day, Kula was in dire need of a transplant.

    On the donor’s list for several months without an available liver, Kula’s desperation grew as he faced his own mortality.

    Fed up with waiting, Kula’s family began receiving tests to see if their livers were compatible matches to him. Tests on 16 family members and friends yielded the same 16 results – no match.

    With the search becoming more frantic by the day, only one family member had yet to be tested for compatibility: Kula’s uncle Jim, a private security guard in Camarillo, Calif.

    Kula’s fingers were crossed, and in February 2007, Jim Kula’s liver was revealed as a match.

    “”I was definitely ecstatic,”” Kula said. “”There was a serenity that the situation was coming together for me.””

    A liver transplant is no small deal, as complications and several uncomfortable tests can accompany the surgery. Jim Kula did not think twice about the operation and even considered it an honor.

    “”There were probably a lot of good reasons to do this,”” Jim said. “”But there was at least one very good reason to do it.””

    Only three days after finding the match, Alex and Jim entered the hospital together. Half of Jim’s liver would soon belong to his nephew.

    Alex woke up nine hours after entering surgery and immediately noticed a difference.

    “”The first thing I noticed was I wasn’t yellow,”” he said. “”My eyes were white.””

    Following the transplant, Kula met with Jim and thanked him with tears in his eyes, but Jim would not accept the gratitude.

    “”I’ll always remember one thing my uncle said,”” Alex said. “”He said, ‘You’re not allowed to thank me. This is something I wanted to do.'””

    Now Alex is showing his gratitude as the member education officer for UA Students for Organ Donation, where he educates the public about the facts and importance of organ donation.

    “”A lot of people are dying every day because they don’t have a transplant,”” he said. “”For people who feel uncomfortable facing mortality, they have to look at it as supporting life.””

    The organization is on the UA Mall each day this week from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. as members talk with students about how to become organ donors, said alumni board contact Robert Portley.

    Alex’s story allows him to give a personal perspective to the organ donation conversation, a valuable aspect to convincing students to donate, Portley said.

    While waiting for an available liver, Alex met several other patients waiting for organs. Some received the organs they needed. Others died.

    “”I just wish I could show people a picture of these people,”” Alex said. “”So many of the people I met are out in the world doing good things.””

    As he returns to his classes and the rest of his life, Alex’s liver is not the only thing that has been altered.

    “”I’m just such a changed person now. It takes a lot to get me stressed out anymore,”” he said. “”Having a healthy life – you can’t beat that.””

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