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Liver Transplant

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Every day is a gift: Meet a grateful couple who's paying it forward

Eva and John Walker

Eva Walker has a sign in her office window: Don't take your organs to heaven. Heaven knows we need them here.

For Eva, that message is very personal. In 2007, her husband John was told that without a liver transplant, he would not survive.

How it all began

It was 2004 when John's health troubles first arose. He developed pustular psoriasis, a serious condition as disturbing as its name suggests. Pus-filled blisters covered his skin.

John was given strong medication. It caused many side effects. But, what he didn't realize at the time was just how hard it was on his liver, especially when combined with alcohol use.

John had struggles with alcohol. And, living with this painful skin condition, only further fueled his desire to drink. John's psoriasis would eventually clear up. In addition, in 2006, he entered a rehabilitation program and got help for his alcohol addiction. It wasn't until later – a year and a half after he had taken his last drink – that the extent of his liver damage became apparent.

Eva noticed physical changes in John. "He was losing muscle tone and developing this really big belly," she says.

That's when the couple learned that these newer symptoms were due to a failing liver. John would need a transplant. The news hit hard.

"It was a shock and kind of terrifying," Eva recalls. "You hear of people waiting years and years on a list and getting sicker and sicker. We just didn't know what to expect."

Amazing support

After some research and initial visits, the Walkers found a transplant center they felt was a good fit for John. But, it was out of state. And, Eva worried that their health insurance wouldn't cover the surgery there.

One quick call to UnitedHealthcare put her mind at ease, she says. The customer service representative Eva talked with assured her that the procedure would be covered – and encouraged the couple to move forward to get John the care he needed.

On top of that, they received a call back with more good news. Under their policy, John and Eva qualified for food and lodging reimbursement while away from home.*

Eva was impressed that UnitedHealthcare took the initiative to call her back with this information. "That was just amazing to me," she says. And, the reimbursements proved especially helpful with all of the appointments and tests John had to have – from his first visit to the hospital to his transplant.

'I felt like they really cared'

It was in June of 2008 when John received his new liver. Though a short wait by transplant standards, it was still a stressful one for the couple – with its ups and downs. Three times over the months, John and Eva were told a liver was available, only to learn at the last minute that the organ was unsuitable.

Before each potential surgery, John had to undergo a battery of tests. And, each time, UnitedHealthcare paid the medical claims without delay, Eva says.

The Walkers were also pleased with myuhc.com®.** There, they could find John's medical history – information they needed to complete the forms for social security disability. They also appreciate that a UnitedHealthcare care coordinator continues to check in with them to see how John is doing.

The Walkers know they have a great deal to be grateful for – including the exceptionally positive experience they had with UnitedHealthcare.

"They did everything they could to make a very traumatic time easier for us," Eva says. "I felt like they really cared."

Being there for others

More than three years after his transplant, John continues to do well. He's taken a leadership role in a faith-based 12-step recovery program called Celebrate Recovery®.*** This is a national program typically available through local churches. He likes to give time to others in similar situations. And, both he and Eva spread the word about the importance of organ donation. Many people they know have signed up to be organ donors.

Nationwide, 16,000 people were waiting for a liver when John received his, Eva says. Fewer than half of them got one that year.

"You try to figure out why you were the one who was fortunate enough," she says. "Then, you feel like you've absolutely got to pay that forward to other people."

Moving ahead, they're doing just that – and enjoying the journey. "Every day is a gift," Eva adds. "That's the way we live our lives."

**Though some may recognize the myuhc.com health portal by different URLs, members can access the same valuable information. Oxford members, visit oxfordhealth.com. UHC West members, visit uhcwest.com. River Valley members, visit myOptumHealth.com.

***The Celebrate Recovery® name is a registered trademark owned by John Baker.

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