A hero in his own right: PTC resident’s book gives hope to those needing organ transplants

Tue, 09/23/2008 - 10:27am
By: Michael Boylan

Peachtree City resident Allen Russell was scared to death when he learned he was suffering from Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, a genetic disorder that can cause liver and lung disease in children and adults, and would need a liver transplant. What he found on the internet from people who had suffered from the same disease or had organ transplants did nothing to calm his fears.

“I told myself, ‘If I get through this, I will write something positive for people to find’,” Russell said. He did make it through a liver transplant without any repercussions and he followed through on his promise to himself. The result is his book, “Heroes of My Transplant.”

Russell has kept a journal since his sophomore year of high school and much of his book is pulled from the journals he has kept for much of his life. “Heroes of My Transplant” is about the friends and relatives of Russell who taught him the lessons that helped him pull through his ordeal.

“These people are like wells,” Russell said. “I drew from them for different things through the entire process.”
His journals worked as a sort of therapy for Russell who was admittedly stressed and scared in the years between his diagnosis to his transplant. Russell, who has worked for BellSouth for a number of years, worked until a month before his transplant. He thought his wait would be much longer, as the average waiting time for an organ transplant is a year and a half, but 38 days after leaving work he received a phone call stating, ‘We have a liver for you.’
Within hours, Russell was at Vanderbilt University.

“ I walked through the door and told them I was here for my liver transplant,” recalled Russell. “I got on a gurney, got an IV and was asked, ‘Have they given you your I don’t care pill yet?’ That was the last thing I remember. It seemed like seconds passed and I asked when would we start. They told me it was all done. It was amazing.”

Russell stayed in Tennessee for three weeks and then was allowed to go home. It was three weeks less than he had planned to stay close to the hospital, but the doctors told him he was free to go. Within two months of his transplant, he was driving again and within three months he was back at work.

Russell has since retired, but his work is now writing books like “Heroes of My Transplant” and serving as a board member for the Alpha 1 Association.

Russell began work on “Heroes of My Transplant” close to three months after returning home from his transplant. The writing started on the internet on a Geocities site and after posting another entry he would call his friends so that they would read the latest installment. Eventually, after several people continued to tell him that he should write a book, Russell pulled the stories together for “Heroes of My Transplant.”

The people in the book range from Russell’s junior high football coach to co-workers, as well as members of his family and others dealing with organ transplants of their own. The book, which was based on Russell’s journal entries is a quick and touching read. Russell’s goal was to put something positive out there for people dealing with organ transplants to read and he succeeded. In fact, his biggest sale to date has been to the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s recovery center. There’s a copy in every room and several people who found the book there have contacted Russell to thank him for writing his book.

It was a long process for Russell to get his book together and published and he has yet to turn a profit, but Russell states that isn’t the point.

“This is just a mission for me,” he said.
Russell dedicated the book to Dr. Mark Brantly, a research doctor at the University of Florida that Russell visited several times as his “guinea pig.”
“At one point, I got pretty low and said I didn’t want to go through with it,” Russell recalled. “Dr. Brantly told me to get my head on straight and everything worked out terrific.”

It has been six years this week since Russell’s transplant and since then he has been spreading the word that things can work out just fine for people undergoing organ transplants. As he attends seminars and talks about his book, he is constantly reminded of the heroes that helped him pull through. As more and more people find his book though, he becomes a bit of a hero as well.

For more information about “Heroes of My Transplant” or Russell visit www.thelighthouseteam.org.

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