In 2008, Noel Gleason and Shannon Croom were working side by side as Special Agents with the United States Capitol Police. In July of that year, with Noel’s life on the line, they became lifelong friends.
“You need a transplant and you need one now.” So ended my fight with a liver disease “primary sclerosing colangitis.” Now I turned to getting a transplant and surviving.
My gastroenterologist of many years Andrew Axelrad, had planned for this with me so my siblings were prepared for my call. All three stepped forward. My brother Chris was quickly disqualified. Not to worry I had two siblings in good health going through the paces to see if they were suitable donors.
There were several moments during this process that are frozen in time for me. I bet most people go through life with one or two. As the effects of my liver failing started to become more obvious I was put on a light duty position where I worked with the U.S. Capitol Police. My phone rang and my wife Patti was crying. She informed me that both my remaining siblings had failed the donor screening. I’ll never forget the moment, time stood still and a fear began to creep into me that I might not survive. I drove home numb and walked in my front door to my distraught wife. A few minutes later I received a text from my teammate Shannon Croom saying he was going to Georgetown University Medical Center the following day to begin the donor evaluation process. More texts and phone calls came in from other coworkers, neighbors and friends offering to help.
Shannon and I began our respective evaluations the same day. It’s not a simple process, very invasive and lasts about a week. Then another one of those moments; Patti and I were driving to our daughter Mara’s friend’s house when Shannon called to say he was a match. I remember the spot on that road where I took the call, where I pulled over to hug Patti. Patti called ahead to let Mara know, her friend’s mom came out of the house to greet us in tears, everyone was in tears.
I think one of the most challenging aspects of this was telling our children. Cameron was around 13 and Mara was 9. They are very perceptive and sensitive kids, meaning they picked things up very quickly when I learned I needed a transplant. Now they knew I had a donor.
Once Shannon and I were both cleared, the surgery date was set and the countdown began. I spent time on my deck relaxing and trying to be calm, but sometimes the ridiculousness of what Shannon and I were about to go through was like a slap across my face.
Shannon and I met at the surgery center early on the July morning of the operation. We laid in pre op beds next to each other. I got out of bed and went over to Shannon and Patti took a picture of us in our stylish hospital gowns. Shannon went to surgery before me. Then my surgeon came in and said they were all set. I kissed Patti and drifted off to sleep.
Some twelve hours later I woke in a flurry of activity. Doctors and nurses swarming all over me and the machines in my ICU room. With an endotracheal tube down my throat, I couldn’t talk. I was able to get a pen and paper to jot a note. I tried to write Shannon but only managed to write a few letters before Patti understood and said he was fine. I still have that note. With relief I passed out.
A week later both Shannon and I were discharged from Georgetown to begin the process of recovering from the operation. Shannon returned to full duty within six weeks. I resumed full time status about six months later.
The recovery process wasn’t easy but with the support of family, friends and coworkers, we made it. I’ll never forget Mara walking me down the street holding my arm, Patti managing the 1,000 details of recovery (she’s a nurse) and Cameron sitting by my bed talking about his day.
NBC learned of our story and did a segment in our living room for the Today Show. The Theodore Roosevelt Association awarded Shannon and I their annual award to law enforcement officers returning to full duty after a serious injury or illness.
Nine years later I’m working right beside Shannon again. I look forward to retirement in two years. Most of all I thank God for putting people like Shannon on this Earth. Without him, Patti, Cameron and Mara as well all the others that supported us I wouldn’t be able to share this beautiful story with you.