A lasting friendship, selfless intentions, and good fortune came together when a Kerrville Fire Department firefighter saved the life of a retired police officer and Austin-area resident.
KFD’s Blair Casey, 33, offered to donate part of his liver, because the patient’s daughter Kim, a friend of the Caseys from a previous residency in Corpus Christi, posted online about her father Bubba Laws’ need for a transplant.
Blair said, “Michelle and I didn’t know Kim’s father, but we knew Kim and her husband through a gym we all went to in Corpus. And we’ve kept in touch since we moved to Kerrville in 2016.
“Kim posted online on Nov. 6, 2019 about her father and how he was on the list of patients needing a liver transplant. And the first thing we noticed was that Michelle and I were both the same blood type,” Blair said. “We decided right away that we should be tested to see if either of us were ‘matches’.”
He said they contacted the University Hospital in San Antonio and a transplant coordinator to get the testing done as soon as possible. That took place Dec. 7.
They got the positive results one week later, that Blair and Michelle both qualified to be donors – a rare event in itself.
“We thought this was a long shot that we would be matches. We’re happy this ended the way it did,” Casey said.
Casey agreed to be the donor, of the two of them, because his liver was larger and better able to withstand the surgery and recover.
“But we both immediately got instructions from the medical staff to stop drinking and eat as healthy as possible. And that was followed by two days of specific medical tests including CAT scans, MRIs and EKGs,” Blair said.
Casey said they also talked to a transplant surgeon and a psychiatrist. Then all their test results and interview information were given to a panel of surgeons and others. And the procedure was approved for Jan. 7.
Casey notified his superiors in the Kerrville Fire Department and worked out a plan to use some of his Family and Medical Leave while this donation happened and he’s recuperating. That allows him a maximum of 12 weeks leave. And fire administration knew ahead of time to move personnel around to cover his absence.
“They were happy about this, and one of them called it ‘selfless’,” he said.
He’s been working as a firefighter/paramedic based at Station 3.
In the meantime, the hospital staff was following their policy of keeping the donation anonymous between the recipient and donor, Casey said.
But the Blairs told their friend Kim, he said, and the “secret” spread to some other members of the Laws family until father Bubba was among the few they hadn’t told. The Caseys know Laws’ wife Pam and the three daughters and their husbands all knew ahead of time. They all agreed to keep it that way until after the surgery was over.
“Bubba Laws had a medical condition that caused his problem with his liver,” Casey said. “There are 15,000 people on that transplant list, and probably only about half of them will get a transplant. A lot of them are on there for medical conditions, not because they drank too much.
“We’d never met Bubba Laws before the surgery. And he didn’t want to know, or his family to know where a liver transplant would come from. He was proud and wanted to be anonymous and to keep his condition to himself and not ‘put someone out.’
“But it was funny, the day of the surgery, Bubba and his family, and Michelle and I, were sitting in the same waiting room before we were called in for prep. He got up and walked past me to the men’s room and said something to me like, ‘How are you? This is going to be hard, isn’t it?’ But I didn’t say anything, and he still didn’t know.”
Casey said the surgery team took about 65 percent of his liver and transplanted it into Laws.
The ICU staff put them at opposite ends of the ICU when they came out of surgery.
“I spent one day there. He was there for four or five days, I think. Then we were down the hall from each other for more than a week.
“We first met after we were out of ICU. We were able to talk one on one, though there was a bunch of family there. He didn’t recognize me at first, from the waiting room, and then he smiled and pointed at me. The hospital staff made a video of our meeting. He’s 69 and says he feels 25 or 30 years younger now. He’s a retired police officer from Houston who worked there for 30 years. My liver will regenerate in six to nine months.”
While Casey was in the hospital, San Antonio Fire Department “brothers” brought lunch to him, he said.
Casey said he and Michelle visited Laws for his birthday recently, outside of Austin.
“Another wonderful thing is that ‘Bubba’ was also my grandfather’s name. He’s gone now, and I’ve gained a grandfather figure again, getting to know Bubba and his family.”
Casey said he still tires easily; and he’s under doctor’s orders not to lift anything that weighs more than 10 pounds. And when he does return to work at KFD, he will be on “light duty” for whatever length of time the doctor orders.
In the meantime, Casey will continue to work online on his bachelor’s degree in emergency management administration from West Texas A&M University.
Casey said he and Michelle will work in the future with University Hospital and the “Donate Life Texas” organization and other organizations.
He said donors need to be between 25 and 55 years old, have the matching blood type and a good liver size to be considered to be a donor.
“It’s been a crazy ride. The video the hospital staff made and edited was shared. Bubba and I were interviewed by USA Today and some other people. He wasn’t crazy about that part.”