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Alive and thankful

Two organ recipients tell their stories

By ZOË WATKINS - zwatkins@t-g.com
Posted 4/29/23

Kim Reed and Brian Riddle know what the gift of life is. They know second chances are something to celebrate. And they know the will to live is largely why they are still here today.  

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Alive and thankful

Two organ recipients tell their stories


Kim Reed and Brian Riddle know what the gift of life is. They know second chances are something to celebrate. And they know the will to live is largely why they are still here today.  

Both Reed and Riddle received life-saving liver transplants in the past two years. Today, they are the newest members of the Donate Life chapter in Bedford County, led by Donna Orr.  

They are also strong advocates for organ donation. As April, which is proclaimed at Organ Donation Awareness Month, comes to a close, Reed and Riddle share their stories of being brought from death’s door to a new chance at life.  

Flight or fight 

Reed, 53, was diagnosed with liver cancer on July 20, 2020. At that time, her team at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville said she had three months to live.  

It took her weeks to wrap her head around that news, she said. “I was in such a flight or fight mode…I did not want to die. 

“They told me if I would do everything that I could, that they would do everything they could do to try to save my life. I’m so appreciative to have such a wonderful transplant team in my life,” Reed said. 

Her liver had already started failing. Reed said she had no idea; she simply thought she was just tired, especially since she was working full time. But then her health started declining rapidly.  

So she was put on the transplant list. And she stayed on that list for 13 months.  

“I had four false calls where they had a liver, but once I got there and prepped for surgery, they deemed the liver nonviable,” she said.  

But Reed remained positive. “For every false call I got, I knew that wasn’t the liver that was meant for me…that wasn’t the right one. God knew,” she said. 

While waiting, the medical team decided to do a TACE procedure (short for Transcatheter arterial chemoembolization). This is where chemotherapeutic drugs are injected selectively through a catheter into an artery directly supplying the tumor. 

Reed said she had three tumors, and she was too sick to take regular chemo.  

It helped. But the tumors kept coming back. She eventually had a total of eight tumors. “And the TACE made me deadly sick,” Reed recalled.  

However, she eventually got the call on November 12, 2021. At the time of the call, Reed said she was bed ridden and wheelchair-bound, only in and out of home to go to the hospital.  

But the surgery wasn't easy.

During the transplant surgery, when the liver was introduced to her, Reed said her heart stopped. “They had to shock me like three times to get my heart back going. I had complete renal failure, complete respiratory failure…” she said. 

Thankfully, Reed recovered and was released from the ICU to home on day four.  

And outside of a couple “bumps in the road,” Reed said she’s been doing good ever since. 

“Without organ donation, I would not be here. I know that,” she said. Reed is also one of the few who has even gotten to meet the family of her organ donor, which she did on her one-year anniversary.  

“I can’t even describe it. It’s like we instantly connected,” she said. “I am just so very thankful. I know God had a hand in it from the very beginning. 

“I would tell anyone, keep fighting, because brighter days are ahead.”  

A walking miracle

Brian Riddle, 62, received a liver transplant on September 22, 2022, and since then hasn’t had any relapse, leading doctors to say he’s a walking miracle.

Riddle, an insurance agent at Dennis Young Insurance, was diagnosed with non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver in May 2021. Normally upbeat and personable, Riddle recalls how he was fatigued, gaining weight rapidly, and diabetic at the time. This was largely due to a failing liver.

He was put on Vanderbilt’s liver transplant list — for a year and three months. “That’s the thing, the wait. You get kind of aggravated because you think they know how sick I am. It’s a hard wait…But I wanted to live,” he said. Riddle said at one point he was even number one on the waiting list for a week. But there were no matches.

While waiting for a liver, Brian also went through the live donor process. His niece, Michelle Parkin, underwent a series of extensive testing to get ready to donate half of her liver. However, five weeks before the procedure, Michelle got COVID, restarting the whole testing process.  

Then, as the most remarkable part of his story, Riddle got two livers in two days that September. The first one was deemed unsuitable. So, it was the next they got the call to come back in.

Riddle recalls, “I didn’t have time to take a shower.” After another series of tests and a biopsy on the liver, the procedure was set for 2 a.m. on the 22nd.    

The procedure took almost 9 hours. But the results were almost immediate.

“The doctor told me, ‘Man, you’re a miracle. When I put you to sleep last night, I honestly didn’t think you’d wake up,’” Brian recalled. Though liver transplants have an 80% success rate, Brian said the likelihood of success for this procedure was only 1 out 10. 

Recovering after surgery, he was put on 27 pills a day. But today, he down to five, taking only an anti-rejection pill twice a day.

Riddle says confidently, “I feel better now than I have in years.”

Plus, looking on the bright side, Riddle said the illness brought him and his wife Tonya closer together. “She took care of me when I didn’t know my name…and it brings you closer,” he said.

And it’s all thanks to an organ donor. “That could save so many lives,” Riddle said. He said his donor even donated his eyes. “There’s no telling how many lives he’s impacted,” he said.

“I’m definitely an organ donor. And I’d ask everybody to be,” he said.

Now, he feels he has a second chance at life. “That’s what I tell everybody. God was good to me. The surgeons were wonderful…

“I feel fortunate because I could’ve died of Covid, I could’ve died of a heart attack, there’s so many things that could’ve happen. And I’m looking at it now like God’s given me a second chance. I’m going to enjoy life.”

His advice?

“Don’t give up because there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”