In 2001, Silvia Harris-Payne, a professor at the University of San Francisco Business School, received a diagnosis of Stage 4 liver disease and cryptogenic cirrhosis. Liver disease had long plagued Silvia’s family. Her father had passed away from liver cancer at the age of 59, and several of her cousins and her sister also dealt with liver-related health issues.
At the time, Silvia depended on the expertise of her hepatologist, Dr. Natalie Bzowej, at a medical center in San Francisco. For 13 years, Dr. Bzowej treated Silvia, and they investigated ways to maintain her quality of life and allow her to continue her passion for teaching.
Despite her very best efforts, Silvia’s health eventually declined. Her wait for a liver transplant would be at least 18 more months and she knew that she wouldn’t make it. She was inordinately calm after the realization set in, determined to face the end with grace and peace. She did not know that fate had a different plan for her.
Toward the end of 2012, Dr. Bzowej moved to New Orleans to work at Ochsner Medical Center. A short while later, she contacted Silvia to tell her that while she didn’t meet the qualifications for a transplant in California, Dr. Bzowej thought that she would meet the requirements in Louisiana.
Silvia and her husband John flew to New Orleans in February 2013. After a week full of tests and meetings, they returned home hopeful. After receiving a life-changing phone call that informed them that she did indeed meet the requirements, they returned to Ochsner on February 22, prepared to wait as long as necessary.
It is roughly 2,200 miles from San Francisco to New Orleans. But for some of the patients whom Dr. Bzowej had cared for when she practiced in California, that long journey was a quicker path to a lifesaving transplant. Silvia remembers being very excited rather than scared or nervous. She saw this as the end of a long and tiring chapter of her life and had hope for a brighter future. Just one month later after returning to New Orleans, Silvia and John were shocked when they received a call asking if they could be at the hospital in ten minutes for the transplant.
Dr. Humberto Bohorquez, her surgeon at the Ochsner Multi-Organ Transplant Institute, explained the procedure to Silvia as several nurses diligently prepared her for surgery. On March 30, 2013, Silvia received a new liver and her second chance at life.
With John by her side, Silvia spent two more months at Ochsner, returning home to San Francisco in May. By spring in 2014, she was teaching again and felt as though her life had gone back to what it should have been before her long health-related detour. Her gratitude for her experience at Ochsner and for this gift of life even led her to make a gift in her estate plan, wanting to give future patients hope while providing resources for advances in transplants.
It is because of the phenomenal dedication of Dr. Bzowej to both her current and past patients that Silvia and many others have been given a second chance at life. When her old friend, Dr. Nigel Girgrah, Medical Director of the Ochsner Multi-Organ Transplant Institute, asked her to come on board at Ochsner, it was a big move in many ways. Soon after she arrived, Dr. Bzowej realized that some of her patients in California could be helped at Ochsner. “I was like a kid in a candy store,” Dr. Bzowej recalls after making the move to Ochsner. “I was so pleased and excited to offer some hope to Silvia and my other previous patients in San Francisco. It is hard to put into words how satisfying it is for me to be able to help them. They get to watch their kids grow up, go back to work and enjoy their lives again!”
Shown in photo above: Silvia Harris-Payne (center) with her sister, Nora Rodriguez and husband, John.
If you would like to change and save lives through a planned gift like Silvia, please contact Craig Bardell with Ochsner’s Department of Philanthropy at Craig.Bardell@ochsner.org.