Written by Kim Hinsley, Brian Hinsley’s wife and caretaker during his lifesaving liver transplant. Brian is one of CKF’s 2018 Bounce Back Award winners.
I’m going to share Brian’s journey from my side, the caregiver’s side.
Brian and I have been married for 22 years now. On our wedding day, we both knew we would be in for the fight of our lives. At that time, his complexion was yellow, he was nauseous and his belly was filled with fluid—the side effects of someone in liver failure. I had just found out that I was pregnant with our daughter and Brian had become a stepfather to my two sons.
Brian was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis when he first became a firefighter and paramedic—a job he has loved and wanted his entire life. He continued working for many years while struggling with this disease, even having different uniform sizes to compensate for the accumulation of fluid in his belly. Brian fought through the constant stomachaches, body aches and headaches, trying to go to work each day. What scared me most was how long he would sleep. I used to call it “scary sleep” because it would last for days.
In addition to these physical symptoms, Brian’s mental and emotional health was impacted by this disease. The fluid buildup would oftentimes cause confusion and pain. The side effects of the medication he was taking caused mood swings and violent behavior. Brian used to run away from home because he couldn’t remember where he lived. Nothing can prepare you for the mornings when he would wake up and not know who I was. There were so many hospital stays and weekly visits to the doctor’s office, it got to the point where Brian had to be taken off the job.
For over two years, Brian waited for a new liver. It got to the point where I couldn’t take care of him any longer. He struggled to walk, he weighed 110lbs and had stopped talking altogether. When he left home to wait in the hospital for a new liver, I knew there were only two outcomes: he was either going to come home as a recipient of a liver transplant or I would be preparing for his funeral.
Brian was offered a total of three livers for transplant, but something was wrong with each one. Brian’s face when encountering these setbacks was the hardest thing I have ever seen. However, with hours left to live, someone decided to donate their loved one’s organs in their most horrible time of grief and it was a perfect match. Their decision saved my husband’s life.
Brian was able to return to work as the first firefighter/paramedic ever to receive a solid organ transplant. Because of the lifesaving gift he received, he became a more caring paramedic. He was able to empathize with those he was helping because he understood sickness and pain. After 28 years, Brian retired from the job he loved so dearly. He will always be remembered as one of the best paramedics to serve the County of Los Angeles, as a mentor and leader.
During Brian’s wait for a new liver, a film crew reached out to us and asked if they could come into our home to film his transplant journey for a documentary. The film, produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, is called “No Greater Love” and focuses on the increasing need for organ donation in the United States. It premiered in Washington, D.C., where Brian spoke in front of Congress to convey the power of transplantation. The following year, “No Greater Love” won a national Emmy for community service documentaries.
As Brian’s wife and caregiver, I saw him hours away from death and watched him recover from a successful liver transplant. He gives back to his family, to his community and to people from all over the country with a passion that inspires not only me but everyone around him. Brian shares his story at schools, flag raisings and hospitals. The doctor who was with us from the beginning, Dr. John Donovan, has Brian speak to his second-year medical students at the University of Southern California. Brian and I are ambassadors for OneLegacy and we are both on the steering committee for JJ’s Legacy, an organ donation nonprofit in Bakersfield, California. Brian tells his story at high schools in Bakersfield, as part of a leadership program that the founder of JJ’s Legacy started to educate on the importance of organ and tissue donation. Brian also participated in Ride Across America, in which he rode an ATV across the country to promote organ donation. Brian continues to speak all over the country, putting a face to transplantation and giving families affected by organ donation a sense of closure.
It has been 18 years since Brian received his new liver and I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything. Megan is 21 years old now. Brian taught her how to drive a car and watched her graduate from high school. He is also a grandpa—our two sons now have children of their own. Looking at our story and how far we’ve come, the title of our film says it all: there is No Greater Love.
Edited by CC Cunningham, CKF Program Coordinator.