Who Says You Can’t Run a Marathon After Two Liver Transplants?

This past Sunday, October 22nd, Steve Nugent, 53, crossed the finish line at the 42nd annual Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Virginia.

A big group of the people who loved him were there, cheering as he came in with a time of six hours and sixteen minutes. He had reached his goal to raise $26,000 for the Team Steve Foundation.

Team Steve Foundation raises awareness of organ donation and aims to support families of donors. Additionally, it makes donations to UVA Hospital’s Transplant Patient Assistance Fund. To learn more, click here.
If you’re anything like me, a girl with a Google search history that includes “is chewing gum exercise?” the story could stop right there. You’d already be impressed, without further information. However, the story of how Steve Nugent got there, panting at the finish line, is more than your average tale of dedication. It’s a dream he’s felt compelled to achieve since he woke up on June 2016, lying on the operating table after his second liver transplant.

Steve had lived through 38 years of fairly good health before this journey started. He had three children with his wife, Diane, in Vienna, Virginia- just a stone’s throw from the neighborhood he grew up in. He spent his days working in the family business, John Nugent & Sons Heating and Air Conditioning of McLean.

In 2007, all of that was called into question when he was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). PSC is a rare disease which damages the bile ducts. When inflammation or scarring blocks these ducts, bile may build up in the liver, causing cirrhosis, fibrosis, and liver failure. To read more about PSC, click here.

Steve’s younger sister donated 60% of her liver after his initial diagnosis. The surgery took about eleven hours, but afterwards, Steve was able to return to his regular life. He had to take medications and make some changes, but for the most part, he was back.

This all changed a few years later, when Steve’s health took a turn for the worse. When he was 49, the doctor told him he needed another liver transplant. He joined the group of 118,000 people in the US waiting for an organ. His evaluations showed that he was gravely ill.

In June of 2016, Steve picked up the phone and heard great news. UVA had found a liver match for him. He packed up and drove down Charlottesville, prepared for surgery, and finally, when he was awaiting the operation there was a sudden change. The donor tests had come back. The liver wasn’t viable.

The next ten days felt bleak until another sliver of hope appeared. Steve’s coordinator at UVA called to tell Steve he needed to come to UVA immediately. There was a liver waiting for him.

Steve says at that point, he was so sick and so disoriented that initially, he didn’t understand. Once he agreed to accept the organ transplant, he rushed down to UVA. The surgeon was shocked he was still alive, given the extent his liver had deteriorated.

After a five hour surgery, Steve improved rapidly. His wife says the change was immediately visible, as his skin began to return from its jaundiced state. The whites of his eyes cleared.

Though the physical transformation was immediate, Steve didn’t start feeling normal until this past March. He had been taking a cocktail of medicines to prevent his body from rejecting to the new organ, and his energy had been low. He decided to start training for the marathon.

The training was rough at first. He was dismayed when it took over 20 minutes just to walk around the block. However, instead of letting that discourage him, he took at as a sign he needed to get serious. With the help of a running coach, he started on a steady regimen. He pushed himself a little further every day, until he started to pick up speed. Before the marathon, he had gone up to 18 miles.

His doctors were surprised by his ambition, but encouraged him. Recovery is easier when you have a goal. He had ran in marathons before, but reentering after two liver surgeries was a whole different ball game.

Now Steve says he’s feeling great– both in body and mind. He’s thrilled to have a second, and then third go at being alive. So much work goes into organ transplants– on the part of the doctors, hospital, the donors, recipients, and families. This is a story that shows that, although it may feel daunting, this complicated, difficult system can work. Steve wants to offer other patients hope, as he crosses the finish line smiling.

To check out more about Team Steve, visit them here!


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