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Neenah Woman Gets Multi-Organ Transplant

| Neenah, Wis.—Less than 24 hours after Nikki LeFebre of Neenah was notified late Friday afternoon that she was officially on the transplant list for four organs — a stomach, pancreas and small and large intestines — an amazing thing happened.

LeFebre and her husband, Ben, were awakened about 3:30 a.m. Saturday by a call from the Indiana University Health Transplant Team that they had organs that were a match and ready for transplant.

"Everything went really well," said Ben LeFebre, who noted that his 24-year-old wife was groggy but gave him a "thumbs up" Saturday night following the 6-hour transplant surgery in Indianapolis. "You just feel really blessed, really lucky that everything worked out so well."

"It's a gift of life," he said.

Nikki was stable in the intensive care unit and faces the likelihood of four to six weeks of hospitalization and recuperation before going home. She will have a breathing tube removed this morning allowing her to talk for the first time.

Ben credited the transplant coordinator for staying after work Friday evening to complete the paperwork needed to get Nikki on the list.

The early morning wake-up call came at the start of a four-day weekend for Ben, who is a pilot for Air Wisconsin. He and Nikki arrived at the hospital about 30 minutes later and Nikki was "anxious and excited.

"It's kind of hard to believe because it's so fast," he said. "I expected to be waiting for a call many months from now."

Even the surgeons were surprised at the timing, Ben said.

"It's really crazy," he said. "It's definitely rare."

Ben said they have no information about the organ donor but are extremely grateful. "The soonest we can find anything out about that is six months for legal reasons," he said.

Just last week, Nikki said doctors told her it might take four to six months on a waiting list to receive any organs. The one-year survival rate for the transplant is 84 percent.

The couple relocated to Indianapolis temporarily after they were married in October to be closer to the transplant center.

Nikki was diagnosed in late 2007 with digestive tract paralysis. It has been more than four years since she ate her last regular meal. She had her stomach removed and is in intestinal failure. For more than three years, she has received all of her daily nutrition intravenously, but has faced more than a dozen life-threatening infections along the way.

The rapid transplant turnaround is far faster than the 1.6-month average wait time for a multi-visceral transplant at the IU transplant facility, which is much faster than the 6.1-month national average, according to the IU Health website.

Family members and friends have held one benefit to help offset medical expenses not covered by insurance and are planning others.

They need to raise about $100,000 — about 10 percent of the expected $1 million transplant cost — to help cover costs such as anti-rejection medication, which is not covered by insurance, that costs about $700 a month.
 

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