After watching her twin sister struggle for years with liver failure, Lodi resident Melinda Kissler is thankful to have her best friend healthy and able to participate in Thanksgiving this year.
"For years, we were missing out on the simple things like shopping, getting together and talking on the phone — the things people take for granted," Melinda Kissler said.
Melinda Kissler's twin, Melissa NcIlrath, lives in Stockton with her husband and four children. Her complications started in 1986 while giving birth to her fourth child, who was born three months premature.
NcIlrath was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center, where she received multiple blood transfusions. In 1992, NcIlrath found out she had contracted hepatitis C from a transfusion because hospitals were not testing blood for that disease at that time.
Starting in 2002, NcIlrath began to have symptoms of hepatitis C, including extreme drowsiness, nausea, vomiting and a loss of balance, which led to multiple falls and a broken elbow. She had to quit her job as a nurse at San Joaquin General Hospital.
The worst symptom, which started to become prominent in 2009, was extreme confusion. She would put her purse in the refrigerator. One time her husband, Dan, found her in the front yard trying to put her car keys into a tree saying she needed to run errands.
As her symptoms grew worse, her husband took a leave from his job with his family's petroleum business to care for his wife 24 hours a day, and the couple moved into her parent's house. They got her on the national donor list for a liver, and even flew to Baylor, Texas, where NcIlrath's daughter lives, to try and get one there.
On Nov. 13, 2011, the family's prayers were answered. A liver was available at Stanford Hospital, where NcIlrath was already admitted. The doctors were not sure whether NcIlrath was healthy enough for the surgery, but eventually decided to give her the liver because they know the family had done everything they could to get her a donation.
NcIlrath was supposed to spend three months under Stanford's care to recover, but she was home in a month.
The former nurse hopes to one day go back to work, although she is now waiting for a kidney transplant, because hers were damaged when she received a liver.
NcIlrath has once again been able to make crafts, sew and cook. But her favorite way to spend her time is with her husband of 34 years, her four children and her four grandchildren. Her daughter, Kristen, is expecting a fifth grandchild in April.
"That was the hardest, not being around the grandkids or my kids because I was always the one to have the parties and cook. I was gone for a while, but I'm back now," she said.
NcIlrath and her husband both are thankful and pray for the family of the donor. They plan to get involved with an organization advocating to get more people on the donor list. They encouraged people to look into giving a gift that can save a life.
From this experience, the entire family looks at life differently.
"When you say goodnight to someone, make sure you tell them you love them and give them a kiss," Dan NcIlrath said. "Strange things happen when you are not expecting them."
Earlier this year, Kissler was able to go to dinner at El Rosal in Lodi with her twin sister for the first time since the transplant. For the first time in years, they were able to enjoy their food, talk and spend time together without worrying about the awful symptoms that plagued NcIlrath.
"I kind of cried because I never thought I would be doing that with her," Kissler said. "I missed her, and she was gone out of my life for a while, and she didn't know it. I'm just so thankful to have her back."
Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at firstname.lastname@example.org.