Gordon Kirkland began to weep the moment he and his wife Diane pulled into the driveway of their Pitt Meadows home on Wednesday, Oct. 2.He never thought he'd ever see his house again.
"I turned into this blubbering sack of humanity in the car when I saw the house," Kirkland said.
Two weeks earlier, the author and humorist - who has penned seven short humour books and two full-length novels during his long career - was planning his funeral, the result of a liver that had essentially turned against him.
Kirkland, who celebrates his 60th birthday on Oct. 12, likely thought he had used up all of his nine lives.
For decades, Kirkland has lived with a spinal cord injury stemming from a 1990 automobile accident.
Following the accident, Kirkland moved from a wheelchair to crutches clipped onto his forearms for 18 of the past 23 years.
On May 17, 2012, Kirkland was the official medal bearer for the Pitt Meadows leg of the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay. But Kirkland's most recent health battle had him, in his own words, about "three days north of death."
"I was pulled back from the edge when a liver was found," he said.
He added, "I likened it to being on death's door with my finger just about to push the doorbell."
Just 13 days after receiving transplant he came home.
This journey to death's door and back began in late March 2012 when Kirkland's legs began feel weaker.
"I figured it was just the paraplegia," he recalled.
I'm not going to be able to use the forearm crutches, anymore."
He knew the use of his legs would come to an end, sometime.
What he didn't expect was it to come to quite a crashing end, quite literally, 38,000 feet
over the Atlantic Ocean, in a jet airliner lavatory on March 31, 2012.
"We were flying home from Barbados," Kirkland said. "It was a day that will live in infamy. I kind of crashed through the door and the Air Canada stewardess... ignored me with her undivided attention. She was busy pouring coffee for first class [passengers]."
Soon after touching down on home soil, Kirkland went to Eagle Ridge Hospital. He spent three days in the emergency ward, where a doctor told him that he saw something unusual in Kirkland's blood test.
"A couple of days later they came to me and said that I have cirrhosis of the liver," Kirkland shared. "I said, 'I can't have. I'm not an alcoholic. Alcoholics go to meetings and I don't like going to meetings.'" On April 9, 2012, Kirkland was diagnosed with nonalcoholic cirrhosis of the liver.
From that point forward Kirkland's health plummeted. "One of the lovely side effects is your liver needs to clean the toxins out of your system," Kirkland said. "They weren't being cleaned out of my system."
This condition causes encephalopathy, a form of brain disease.
"It made it so I couldn't write, I couldn't focus on what I was writing, half the time couldn't focus on what I was saying," Kirkland said.
The encephalopathy worsened.
"A lot of people were wondering why new books weren't coming out," he said. "They were promised a sequel to [his full-length novel] Crossbow. Nothing was happening with it."
By May 2013, Kirkland said, it "was almost like I had fallen off a cliff."
"Diane came home for lunch one day, and I didn't know who she was," he recalled.
After that, Kirkland had stays in Vancouver General Hospital, off and on.
Then, starting on June 29, he spent 110 days at VGH and Ridge Meadows hospitals.
Kirkland had a roughly one per cent chance of finding a donor match. He has a rare blood type (B) and noted that, on average in Vancouver, only one B transplant has been performed each year because the type is so rare.
Also, with Kirkland being 6'4" tall, his liver had to be compatible in size with a potential donor.
"A B liver could come available but from someone who is five-foot-four," Kirkland said. "That wouldn't have done me any good."
The weekend of Sept. 14-15, the end seemed near.
Diane said it was the most stressful time of her life. She was trying to come to grips with being a widow, just a couple of months after the couple celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.
"I wasn't accepting it," she said.
Kirkland, himself, was fully prepared for the worst.
"I wasn't afraid of it [death]," he said. "I wasn't happy about it but I wasn't going to be one of those people who went screaming into the long good night. I just knew it was coming."
On Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 9:50 a.m., Kirkland received a phone call that he will never forget.
A doctor said, "Gord we've got a liver for you."
The news didn't register, initially, with Kirkland.
He was in shock.
After hanging up the phone, Kirkland screamed, "They've got a liver! They've got a liver!" An ambulance was dispatched to take Kirkland from Ridge Meadows Hospital's palliative care unit, where he was staying, to VGH for the transplant.
He entered the operating theatre at around 6 a.m. the morning of Sept. 19.
Seven hours later, doctors completed the transplant procedure.
"What we were told was going to be a 12-to-18-hour operation only took seven hours," Kirkland said. "I guess everything meshed together and they had all their tools."
By the time Kirkland was fully conscious and aware of his surroundings, it was 9 p.m. He spent 11 days in a VGH transplant ward, which Kirkland calls "an absolute superb treatment centre."
"The nursing staff were so unbelievably professional and knowledgeable," Kirkland said. "That's partially why things moved along so quickly, too, plus the quality of the liver."
Since the transplant, Kirkland's mind is clear.
He's eager to start touching fingers to computer keys again.
He said he's been offered a book deal to write the story about what he's been through, serious with some humour dabbled in.
In the meantime, Kirkland knows nothing about his donor, who is anonymous, but is forever thankful to the person, no longer with us, who saved his life.
"I don't think I can come up with the words, and I'm an author, of how appreciative I am of my donor, and, my donor's family...," he said, his voice shaking with emotion. "He was probably just having a regular life, and some mishap happened. He had made the decision to be an organ donor. He changed the lives of so many people. It's not just me getting his liver. Someone got his heart, his lungs, his kidneys, his pancreas... all of these things that he gave to other people when he died."
He urges others to take the same life-saving step that his donor did.
"It takes nothing to become an organ donor," Kirkland said. "You just go online at B.C. Transplant [www.transplant.bc.ca], and you put in your Care Card number, and now you are an organ donor. Being an organ donor, they're not going to take your organs until you're gone."
He also expressed gratitude to the doctors who he said are "one part angel and one part wizard."
"Doctors can be very aloof, but these guys care," Kirkland said.
His first night home, the Kirklands went out for dinner with friends who, Gordon said, "stuck to me like glue" throughout the ordeal.
"You really find out who your friends are, and I'm one lucky son of a bitch, to have this huge group of people who, all in their own way, find ways to be helpful," he said.
The group visited Chad's West Coast Grill and Bar, an eatery Kirkland and his wife frequented prior to the transplant.
"He cooked especially for my dietary requirements for the liver disease," Kirkland said.
@ Copyright 2013