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How a dying man found life again - One man’s journey through liver transplant

IU Health University Hospital

How a dying man found life again - One man’s journey through liver transplant

His life was forever changed after transplant. Craig Huber spent his days recovering and writing about his experience that is now a book.

By IU Health Senior Journalist TJ Banes,

It started with skin conditions and stomach problems. Then he had swelling in his legs. When a physical therapist noticed his stomach was warm and swollen, she suggested Craig Huber visit his primary physician.

That may have been where his road to transplant started. For Huber, of Speedway, he now thinks the journey started long before.

June is Men’s Health Month, a campaign to draw awareness about health care for men and boys. Part of the focus is to promote proper diet and exercise. It’s also a time to encourage men to respond to signs and symptoms that may be part of larger health concerns.

For Huber, those signs came from lab work and scans that showed his potassium levels were so low that he was in danger of organ failure. Specifically, Huber was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis.

“It was a shock to me because when I got sick, I started a gluten-free diet, cut back on caffeine, and gave up alcohol,” said Huber, 59. His symptoms started in August of 2020 and in November he was in the care of IU Health’s Dr. John Holden, who specializes in gastroenterology.

Huber doesn’t remember a lot but he does remember what he calls the “stink eye” he got from Dr. Holden after going through numerous tests. “He didn’t think I’d make it to surgery,” said Huber. That was in January after his diagnosis. He got sicker and sicker.

On April 25, 2021, Huber underwent a liver transplant in the care of IU Health’s Dr. Chandrashekhar Kubal.

“Life took a swift turn and we hung on with literally our, or Craig’s life,” said his lifetime companion, Cindy Larsen. Together they have a blended family of three children and five grandchildren. “We spent many months going to different doctor’s visits when we were finally referred to IU Health’s transplant center. I can’t say enough about that wonderful team - everyone from the technicians who performed the many tests to the nurses and doctors who nailed down exactly what Craig needed,” said Larsen. “Dr. Holden and his team have been a rock for both of us. They have encouraged us and guided us every step of the way,” she added.

For Huber, writing his book, “How a Dying Man Found Life Again: The Hero Within,” has been both a learning experience and a help to his recovery. He hopes it will inspire others. His book was published in February.

“When I got my diagnosis, Dr. Holden asked me how many times a day I drank and how much. I got off work two hours earlier than Cindy. I’d have a couple of cocktails and then maybe a glass of wine with dinner. I had stopped prior to my diagnosis,” said Huber. “When Dr. Holden asked how many years I’d been doing that I told him over 20 years. It was hard to face but also freeing.”

Since his transplant, Huber and Larsen have participated in Transplant Support Groups - both for patents and caregivers. They meet virtually with others who also had transplants or are preparing for transplant. The transplant support group meet the first and third Thursdays of the month; the caregiver support group meets the second Thursday of the month. Both groups meet noon-1 p.m.

“Everyone has a different journey but I think we also have some things in common,” said Huber. “I want anyone who has been through sickness and who is told they may die to know that they should not give up and they should keep their faith. I had to learn to let people take care of me. When you come through it you’ll be there to help them - your spouse, kids, grandkids, parents,” said Huber. “One of my goals this year is to be engaged with my loved ones. I took everything for granted before and now I want to live in the moment.”

Larsen adds: “We knew that Craig was about to receive a life changing procedure that would allow his life to continue, but at the same time, someone else and their family was having the worst day possible. This has never escaped or been lost on either of us. We pray everyday for his donor and family.”

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