Warner Robins native runs Atlanta race after liver transplant

bpurser@macon.comJuly 4, 2013 

PIEDMONT HEALTHCARE Liver transplant recipient Gary Grantham, left, and Dr. Mark Johnson, a liver transplant surgeon, pose for a photo Thursday before the start of the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta.

When Gary Grantham’s liver started failing four years ago, more than one doctor told his wife that it was time to get his affairs in order and call in the family. Thursday, Grantham, a 56-year-old petroleum equipment salesman from Warner Robins, successfully ran the 6.2 miles of the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta.

He had watched the same annual race from a wheelchair outside Piedmont Atlanta Hospital where he spent two months in recovery after his successful transplant operation there in June 2009.

He credits the grace of God, the prayers of family, friends and co-workers, the support of Shirley Hills Baptist Church and doctors at Piedmont, who he said went the extra mile to save his life.

“Don’t give up,” said Grantham, who has two adult children, one granddaughter and a grandson on the way. “God will take care of it. You have to have faith.”His story

When he was 30, Grantham’s liver enzymes were a little off. It was likely the first sign that he may have inherited a liver problem. His grandmother died of liver disease at age 63.He also took blood pressure medication.

But Grantham was healthy overall. He regularly ran an average of five miles a day five days of the week -- a discipline he’d picked up in college. In the spring of 2008, he began to have problems with his blood pressure, however.

Then he had a nose bleed. His wife noticed that his skin color was becoming yellow. He was losing weight, getting weaker day-by-day and was not able to eat much. He was still working. His wife finally persuaded him to see a doctor. He was sent by a doctor for same-day tests on his liver.

Ginger Grantham, his wife of 33 years, said another doctor next advised that “there wasn’t anything that could be done for him and it was too far gone and we needed to get our affairs in order.

“I felt like a bulldog,” she said. “And I wasn’t going to give up. I was going to get him out of the hospital and get him to someone who can help him.”

Another doctor put him on medications to maintain his liver until he could get an appointment at Piedmont. He had to have several tests, vaccinations, a dental cleaning, counseling sessions and classes before he could be placed on the waiting list for a liver transplant at Piedmont. He had to eat chicken, fish and nuts to keep his strength up, along with a medically prescribed concoction that was “thicker than honey.”

In mid-May 2009, near the time for a checkup, his strength was zapped, he was too weak to walk and blood was coming out his mouth. He was rushed to The Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon to prepare for transport to Piedmont. He arrived in an ambulance.

He went into a coma in acute liver failure. Both kidneys shut down. He had pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas. He was moved into an Intensive Surgical Unit. His lungs collapsed, He was placed on a ventilator. He was on a feeding tube. His wife was again told to call in family. He was bleeding out.

He received 350 blood units from the American Red Cross in order to stay alive in his two months at the hospital. He was on kidney dialysis for 24 hours a day before eventually coming down to four hours of daily dialysis while at the hospital.

“I got my strength from him and from my God,” Ginger Grantham said. “I could just see it in his eyes that he wasn’t going to give up and I wasn’t going to give up either. We just had too much to live for.”

She said she learned to take everything one day at a time.

Gary Grantham was in that state for about two weeks before slowly pulling out and deemed well enough for the transplant.

While battling for his life and later in recovery, some of his family members faced grave illnesses of their own. His mother died of a brain tumor in October 2009, his 85-year-old father of natural causes in April 2010 and his sister of ovarian cancer in November 2010. But Gary Grantham said he was determined not to give up.

It took 15-months to regain his strength. He had lost 75 pounds. But he was back to work earlier than doctors wanted in six months. He noted that he’s not taken a single sick day since the transplant.

His annual checkup that includes a liver biopsy coincided with this year’s race. The hospital asked him last year if he was up to the challenge. He decided to go into training.

“Just the fact that I’m alive and that I can,” Grantham said of participating in the organized race -- his first.

His wife watched him run up the hill in front of the hospital during the race. The Atlanta hill was not near the challenge of the one on Moody Road near Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins that she said her husband often takes on.

“I didn’t want him to see that I was crying,” she said. “All I could think was, ‘Thank you, God. Thank you, God. Thank you, God.’ ’’

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