‘Transplantiversary’: Joanne Arcardo’s story

The only treatment for her primary sclerosing cholangitis is a liver transplant.

A year ago

A year ago

Ministry of Health

VANCOUVER – “I remember the day my fiance proposed to me, because that was the same day I received notice that I was officially on the transplant list for a liver.”

Joanne Arcardo was no typical twenty-something looking forward to marrying her high school sweetheart of 12 years. She’d spent the majority of her twenties very ill, suffering from the effects of a 2007 diagnosis of primary sclerosing cholangitis, or PSC, an auto-immune disease that causes scarring and blocking of the bile ducts inside and outside the liver. Often joined by the equally-unpleasant ulcerative colitis, the only treatment for PSC is a liver transplant.

“In 2007, I started experiencing pain and fatigue, but for a while nobody really knew what was going on. I’m glad that one doctor decided to do a blood test, and when he took one look at my numbers, he sent me to a specialist in Chilliwack right away,” explained Joanne.

From the specialist in Chilliwack to doctors at Vancouver General Hospital, Joanne was suddenly on a journey that would leave her on disability from work, too sick to walk her dog, and unable to go to the grocery store or shopping unaccompanied.

“For a few years, my symptoms were managed by medication and I thought I could handle it, but then in 2010, I got Crohn’s disease (ulcerative colitis), and I grew weaker and weaker. My symptoms started getting worse. People on the street, my friends, family and colleagues were concerned. I looked very ill,” said Joanne.

Developing Crohn’s disease was a turning point in Joanne’s illness. Her condition started rapidly going downhill, and her independence became severely limited.

“At this point, there wasn’t really anything the doctors could do. It was more of a wait and see situation once we handled the Crohn’s disease. It was a really hard, emotional time in my life,” said Joanne.

In 2012, Joanne had progressed to the point of needing a transplant. “I felt strangely calm when they told me I needed to go on the list. My specialists from Vancouver General Hospital who were with me right from the beginning, Dr. Erb and Dr. Scudamore, gave me support and strength to keep going.” When Joanne’s fiance proposed in the summer of 2013, Joanne was officially on the transplant list for a new liver. The big call came in December 2013.

“I remember answering the call and just bawling. I had gotten the call at my lowest point. I was suffering, my blood counts were very low and I was experiencing terrible symptoms that sent me in for blood transfusions every two weeks. I was admitted to the hospital vomiting blood. I was terrified,” said Joanne.

After one liver wasn’t suitable, Joanne received the transplant that would save her life one week later.

“I spent my twenties sick. I could only think of all the normal things I could do if I was better – things that you take for granted,” said Joanne. “I have lots to make up for now!”

And now, one year out from her successful liver transplant, Joanne is working on returning to work and she gives back to the transplant community by volunteering at donor signup events.

“Even if people aren’t comfortable with the idea, all I can suggest is they talk to their families. If they even share their thoughts, I’ve done something good that day,” said Joanne. “I owe my life to people who sign up to be donors – I say I’m here today because someone was a donor.”

She acknowledges the great expertise of Dr. Erb, Dr. Scudamore in saving her life, and her gastroenterologist and family doctor, who first identified the disorder.

Joanne now walks her dog regularly, visits the grocery store on her own, is planning a wedding, and enjoys exercising and hiking. With her renewed health, she’s been able to travel to Los Angeles and the Dominican Republic.

“It’s amazing, just amazing to think that one year ago, I was too sick to climb my staircase. Now, I’m hiking mountains. I am so thankful to be given this chance at life.”

The first liver transplant in B.C. was in 1989 – 25 years ago.

Since 1989, 838 liver transplants have been performed in British Columbia.

In 2014 year, there have been 56 liver transplants up to press time.

The number of people registered on B.C.’s Organ Donor Registry: 920,471.

There is a chronic shortage of hearts, lungs, kidneys and livers for transplant in B.C. as the need far outweighs the number of organs available for transplant.

There are more than 500 British Columbians currently awaiting organ transplants and hundreds more awaiting corneal transplants.