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Board Denies Liver Transplant

Mike Peters, Nevada Appeal News Service

It was an incomparable dedication to a life that Ken Newsom of Greeley, Colo., had planned to make, that Newsom had prepared for, tested for, and was comfortable with. But it will never be.

Half the people thought Newsom was crazy. The other half knew he was a good person doing a good thing. But it’s over now.

Newsom, 48, has been a Greeley resident for five years. A few months ago he offered to share his liver – 60 percent of it – with a woman he barely knew.

An over-the road truck driver, Newsom grew up in California with his best friend, John Kennedy, a friend who is now in construction in Truckee, Calif.

“We were talking on the phone one night,” Newsom explains, “and John said his wife was very sick and needed a liver. I just said, ‘Well, I’ll give her mine.’ ”

Just as simple as that. Newsom went to Stanford Medical Center last week, and on Wednesday, he was to donate 60 percent of his own liver to Robin Abling, Kennedy’s wife. Newsom barely knows Abling. They met 12 years ago when he was visiting in California, and they spent the evening at dinner, Newsom and Kennedy and Abling. After meeting her for only a few hours, Newsom had decided to save her life.

After months of tests, of matching and cross-matching, the doctors said Newsom, a universal donor because of his blood type, would be a match. Abling had little chance of getting another liver, so this was her chance to live.

But on Friday, after Newsom and Abling had prepared themselves for months, after they arrived at Stanford, ready to make the transplant, the board denied it. “They said they wouldn’t allow it because he has four children at home, and it’s a risk for him,” a heartbroken Kennedy said on the telephone Saturday. “I don’t know why they couldn’t have made that decision sooner.”

Newsom, Abling and Kennedy were devastated. “They led us on for four months,” Kennedy said. “I’m afraid Robin won’t make it for the years it takes to get a cadaver donor.”

“We were so grateful he was giving our lives back,” Abling said. “We still are. But now we’re stunned. I don’t know how they could let us get this far, and then stop it.”

Before the surgery was stopped, Newsom was optimistic. “The good thing about giving part of your liver is that you don’t have to be dead,” he said. “Mine will regenerate in six to eight months, and hers will grow also.”

Born and raised in California, Newsom was a Marine for six years, with a tour of Vietnam. Once a paramedic, he moved to Colorado in 1982, then to Greeley in 1996. As a trucker, he’s driven about 2 million miles.

He said Abling’s liver has deteriorated from an accident she had 20 years ago, and if she doesn’t get a liver, she’ll die. “I’m not a cop or a fireman or a paramedic, and it was my chance to save a life,” Newsom said.

This is a living donation, not an organ donation after the donor has died, and Newsom realizes the importance. “Everyone should think about doing this,” he said. “After you’re dead, you can’t see the spark in the eyes of the person you helped.”

“This was kind of a soul search,” Newsom said. “I see so many self centered people on the road that I need to do something good. Everything I do teaches my children.”

His children were taught a lesson here, too. But it’s a difficult one to explain.