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Bell Buckle embraces police chief

Wiley awaits liver transplant

Posted 2/15/22

Longtime Bell Buckle Police Chief Tommy Wiley is waiting for a liver transplant, and he needs one soon.   Wiley has what most people would call a good sense of humor. Considering he’s going through one of the most difficult seasons of his life, that’s a unique trait.  

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Bell Buckle embraces police chief

Wiley awaits liver transplant


Longtime Bell Buckle Police Chief Tommy Wiley is waiting for a liver transplant, and he needs one soon.   Wiley has what most people would call a good sense of humor. Considering he’s going through one of the most difficult seasons of his life, that’s a unique trait.  

He was diagnosed with leukemia several years ago. He said that’s in remission, but last November, he began having liver problems. He was put on a regimen of tests. Then in January it was determined.  

“I asked my doctor if I continued on like I am with healthy eating, exercising, how long could I ride it out? He said probably three to five months,” Wiley said. “My wife hit the floor. I mean, what do you do when you get news like that?”  

Wiley then added with a smile, “I guess you go sky-diving. You ride a bull named Fu Man Chu,” quoting lyrics from the Tim McGraw song “Live Like You Were Dying.”  


Wiley has been police chief of Bell Buckle for about 15 years. He joked one side of the railroad tracks knows him by “Andy,” while the other knows him by “Barney.” But most residents in Bell Buckle simply call him “Tommy.”  

It’s not his first nickname. While going to high school, in the west Nashville area (called “The Nations”) where he’s from, Tommy was known as “Smiley Wiley” — for his good sense of humor.  

“When my feet hit the floor in the morning, I’m ready to rock ‘n roll, have fun, and live every day,” Wiley said. “You’ve got to be here, so why not enjoy it? I enjoy every day.”  

Inspired by his uncle, Wiley always knew he wanted to be a policeman. So, when he was 18 and too young to become a police officer (which required you be 21), Wiley joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1976.  

He was a trades officer at Quantico and an embassy guard for President Jimmy Carter at the White House and Fort Meade until 1979. He then went to the Metro police academy and served as an officer in the Nashville area beginning in 1980.  

“It’s completely different now. I couldn’t do it today,” Wiley said. The changes in law enforcement encouraged Wiley to go back to the state academy ¸— at age 50. But his good humor got him through.  

“They called me ‘Pops’ because the rest of them were like 20, 21, 22. And then here you got this 50-year-old man.”  

After serving for a time at the Grundy County Sheriff’s Office, Wiley became chief of police in Bell Buckle in 2008.  

“It’s been wonderful. It’s a job I love coming to every day,” Wiley said.  

Community support  

Now the community he’s served for years is coming out with prayers and support. Ask any resident around town and they’ll say Wiley makes the “ideal small town police chief,” according to Phillips General Store owner Billy Phillips. 

Town Recorder Janet Robinson, whose known Wiley these 15 years, said, “Tommy is well-loved by many here in Bell Buckle and around.”  

Wiley says, “Just treat people like you want to be treated. Nobody’s perfect.” Back in Nashville, some would even call the station to get Wiley to serve their arrest warrants. The chief officer asked why, and they would respond that Wiley is “the only one who can kick my butt and laugh with me at the same time.”  

A fish fry is planned for Feb. 26 at 82 Market in Bell Buckle, beginning at 4 p.m. to help raise funds for Wiley’s hospital bills. Already, a GoFundMe page, was started by Janet Robinson and Debby Snell at the Town of Bell Buckle. It raised $5,000.  

“Within in the first 30 minutes, it shot up like that,” Wiley said.  

Medical bills  

Any bit helps. Wiley said his Medicare doesn’t kick in until this November — 8 months from now — when he turns 65. And his job as Bell Buckle police chief can only support his insurance policy and medical leave for so long.  

“Bills are starting to add up,” Wiley said. But with a slight grin he added, “I told one of the finance people yesterday, ‘They give me 3 to 5 months to live if I don’t get a liver . . . . Can you call me back in six months?’ But if I’m still here, we’ll work on getting you paid.”  

The list  

What many may not realize is the many steps it takes to get an organ donation — granted you find a match in time.  

Wiley says for the last year, he’s been taking water pills. He’s lost about 90 pounds, but it’s mostly been muscle loss. Then 3 months ago, his doctors wanted to run a regimen of tests for his heart and kidneys. They found his kidneys were dehydrated, while there was some blockage in his arteries.  

With these conditions, he said he could live to 105, no problem. But for the surgery to transplant a new liver, that requires a nearly perfect report card of health to make sure your body is strong enough for the surgery. 

Thankfully, Wiley got the news that his kidneys are fine. “That speed bump is out of the way,” he said.  

Now, he said he’s waiting this week for test results regarding his heart, which will be another step towards getting ready for the transplant.  

Before any steps toward surgery begin, Wiley must go before a board of doctors to get approval.  

One of those doctors is a psychiatrist — to make sure transplant patients are showing no signs of depression or suicidal thoughts due to the medication. In good humor, Wiley retold the story where the psychiatrist asked if he had ADD (attention deficient disorder). 

 “I stopped in the middle of the interview, and looked out the window and said, look at that helicopter landing over there on top of Vanderbilt. It wasn’t there, but she leaned over and looked. She said, ‘You’re messing with me,’” he recalled. With that, Wiley laughed.  

She’s one of the members of the committee to approve Wiley’s transplant. She confirmed for him that she would give him a definite go ahead with the surgery. Wiley said he’s got 3 of the 6 votes for getting on the list as a transplant patient.  

Once on the list, he’s required to “keep a bag by the bed,” and be ready for the call 24-7 for when a liver is available.  

Many of his family members have signed up to be a living donor, since a body can regenerate a liver if a portion is taken out — the only organ in the human body that can do so.  

“The only thing is it’s a lot to ask because they have to go through the same tests, I’m going through to make sure that they’re physically fit for surgery. And all my kids have kids, so I don’t want to put them through something like that,” Wiley said.  

But they’d probably doit in a heartbeat.  

Wiley’s daughter Candice wrote in a Facebook post, he’s “a real hero with a heart of gold.” While Wiley’s son, who’s a police officer in Mt. Juliet, started a “No Shave February” where participants pay $50 to help raise funds.  


However, once everything’s approved and a patient receives a liver, then there’s the recovery phase.  

For the month after the surgery, you’re bedridden, while “your body is never going to accept the liver. It’s going to try to reject it the rest of your life,” Wiley explained. 

Patients are also required to be within 15 minutes of the hospital. Wiley said his assistants at Vanderbilt have even gone so far as to give him a list of extended-stay hotels that are close to the hospital.  

“Basically, for 3months, you’re an invalid. And I’m not used to that at all. I’m a get-going person,” Wiley said.  

“But you do what you can do.”  

For now, Wiley said he is taking all the prayer he can get, while the timeline of his life is measured in months and weeks. 


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