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Twenty-five years post liver transplant: Patient celebrates every day

Twenty-five years post liver transplant: Patient celebrates every day

It’s been 25 years since Doug Harty received his liver transplant at IU Health. Today and every day he says he celebrates two lives – one for himself, and one for his family.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

A photomontage of Doug Harty’s recent life depicts someone who is embracing every day - every single minute. There are pictures of him on a bike ride wearing a Donate Life shirt, a shot of him outside the Vatican, one of him eating a green snow cone, and another of him smiling down at his new grandchild.

“There was a point when I never thought I’d live to see my kids graduate from high school, meet my grandkids, or walk my daughter down the aisle,” said Harty. “I feel amazing. I’m almost 65 but I feel more like 35.”

This month, Harty celebrated 25 years since his liver transplantation performed at IU Health by the late Dr. Mark Pescovitz. A transplant surgeon from 1988 to 2010, Dr. Pescovitz performed kidney, pancreas and liver transplants, including Indiana’s first pancreas transplant in 1988. He was tragically killed in a car accident in December of 2010.

Harty’s life had been fairly normal until he was diagnosed in March of 1988 with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) at the age of 31. The rare disease attacks the bile ducts and over time, as the bile backs up, the liver is damaged.

“I came home after playing basketball and felt pain from my sternum to my spine,” said Harty. A graduate of Center Grove High School, he went on to graduate from IU School of Dentistry. At the time of his diagnosis, he was married to his high school sweetheart, Debbie, and well into his dental practice.

After that initial pain, he was scheduled for exploratory surgery. Forty-five minutes later his wife was told Harty would need a transplant. “It was slow progressing so by the time I needed my transplant IU Health was the place I was referred to,” said Harty.

On the 25th anniversary date this year, his staff members at his dentistry practice wore t-shirts that read: “Be a Hero. Be an Organ Donor.” They ordered a special shirt for Harty that read: ‘Transplant Strong. Transplant Survivor.” The majority of his staff members has been with him since he started his practice and understand the importance of the day.

“We celebrate every year. My staff members tell all the patients, they decorate the office and I usually have a big meal with my family,” said Harty.

That family includes his parents, two daughters, and four grandchildren.

Even before his transplant Harty and his wife traveled several times a year on medical mission trips where he offered his dental services to those less fortunate. Some of those travels have included Haiti, Cambodia, El Salvador, and Africa. They also travel for leisure and have been to five of the seven continents.

“I think once you’ve been ill your perspective changes. When you face something that could be life threatening you become more aware of the value of relationships and have a better balance,” said Debbie.

“I celebrate every birthday and every transplant anniversary and I wake every morning and touch my stomach and thank God for my health,” said Harty. “I try to live two lives - one for myself for one for my daughters and their families. I am grateful to God to be alive and to do as much as I can – to love as hard as I can and live as much as I can.”

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