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Giving the ultimate gift; the gift of life

By Staff | Dec 23, 2018

Megan Engler and her dad, Gary, join together after Gary went through a liver transplant and Megan went through a liver lobe donation.

Is there any better gift than the gift of life?

For Gary Engler, that answer is a resounding no, since he received the gift of life from his daughter, Megan Engler, after they found out she was a match as a living liver donor for her dad.

This incredible story began back in January of 2010, when Gary went in for a simple gallbladder removal surgery. It was then that he found out he was struggling with non-alcohol induced liver cirrhosis, which is a condition that impairs liver function. Doctors at Blue Earth’s United Hospital District found his liver was creating scar tissue and was not functioning fully, and his health slowly began to fail.

The liver in his body was no longer able to remove waste products, including toxins, or store energy, or help break down food, like a functioning liver would. Gary began to notice changes like major weight loss, fatigue, jaundice, and ascites or fluid buildup in the stomach.

He and his wife, Marsha, would go to Rochester as often as once a week for paracentesis procedures, which drains that excess fluid from the body. Gary went from being an active person who loved fishing and hunting and spending his time with family and in the great outdoors to becoming dizzy, nauseated, and “just simply not himself” according to his family.

The Englers, above get to spend their Christmas together and in good health. Megan donated a lobe of her liver to her dad when his liver became scarred with cirrhosis.

Several years before his surgery, he went to Alaska in 2014, what Gary calls “the trip of a lifetime,” where he caught a 40-pound salmon, and thensome.

Following retirement after 32 years at the Blue Earth Area High School, Gary then took a job with Martin County as a park caretaker for six different parks where he worked for seven more years. He finally stopped working as the park caretaker as his illness caught up with him.

Gary was then placed on the liver donor transplant list in January, and the family received some tough news. With Gary’s O-negative blood type, the availability of a deceased donor with a new liver would be very rare, and would only happen if Gary became extremely ill.

With Gary quickly losing weight, and becoming more jaundiced as time went on, that is when the family began looking at other options, and the living liver donation became a viable option and Megan stepped in.

“We didn’t know she was doing it at first,” says Marsha about Megan’s intentions to be her dad’s liver donor. “He was very sick and we could have been waiting for years for a proper donor match. But once she told us what her intentions were, she said to me, ‘Mom, if this was Grandpa (Marsha’s father) would you do it?’ And I would have done it for my dad if I needed to, so I could not stop her from doing this. She told me she had made up her mind about it.”

Megan says she went through rigorous testing for two months from blood work to CT?scans, MRIs and other types of tests and waited to be approved by the Rochester Mayo Clinic as her dad’s living donor.

You see, a liver can regenerate itself. So, by having Megan give 65 percent of her healthy liver to her father, not only could Megan re-grow her liver, Gary could also re-grow a healthy liver in his body as well.

In the beginning of May, Megan shared the news that she was a match for liver donation. And just a few weeks later, on June 25, Megan and Gary entered the Methodist Hospital in Rochester for a six-hour surgical liver removal and transplant for Gary.

With tears of joy filling his eyes, Gary shares he was elated to hear that Megan was his match for a new liver.

“I was excited,” he says.

“Megan saved her dad’s life, and she did it so unselfishly. She just did it. It was a big thing just so awesome. I am so proud,” says Marsha.

Marsha says she held on to her faith tightly during those hours where both her husband and her daughter were going through surgery. Surrounded by family and close friends, doctors came to Marsha’s side every hour of the procedure to give her updates.

“God was there through the whole journey,” says Marsha. “Without faith, I?would not have made it. I leaned on God throughout it, and He helped me keep my hope in all of it. It was definitely an emotional day.”

Megan’s right lobe of her liver was removed, while Gary’s damaged liver was removed. Then doctors worked on placing Megan’s liver lobe into Gary and connecting the proper tissues.

Afterwards, Marsha and her family received word that both Megan and Gary were recuperating from the intense procedure. Doctors shared Megan’s lobe was “perfect and pink” and went exceptionally well.

Later that night, following her surgery, Megan was up from her room and walked to visit her dad in another wing of the ICU, where they were both placed after such a serious surgery. For the next few days, both father and daughter rested in the hospital in order for their livers to grow.

By July 20, both Megan and Gary were able to come back to Blue Earth to their home and return to a fairly normal life. Gary and Megan still have to have some routine blood work done in order to make sure their bodies are functioning properly, and Gary also has to take medication in order for his body not to attack his new liver.

Gary has been gaining his weight and his strength back, already putting on some 30 pounds he had lost. He anxiously awaits the day he can get back on the lake and fish, while his daughter says she is already feeling almost entirely back to normal.

Now, thanks to the selfless decision to become her father’s donor for a liver, Gary and Marsha have even more opportunities to share lifetime experiences with their entire family.

Megan, who is a Registered Nurse at UHD, is also returning to normal life with her family, and beloved guinea pig Gunther.

The Englers say they are thankful to so many doctors, surgeons, nurses, as well as family members, friends and neighbors who helped them through all of this.

They also encourage everyone to become an organ donor.

“There were so many other families who were waiting for organs kidneys, livers, hearts and all it takes is putting that word ‘donor’ on your license,” says Marsha.

“And if you know anyone who may need a kidney or a liver or a pancreas, you can be a living donor, too,” adds Megan.

The entire family also encourages anyone who can to give blood, bone marrow, or other regenerative cells as often as you can to help others in need of life-saving measures.

This present came without ribbons, or wrapping paper, or even batteries, but you can surely bet this is one Christmas gift the Englers won’t soon forget.