Life-saving transplant reconnects college friends

By Stephanie Weaver

John Wilhides plans to meet his family for their annual July 4 vacation came to a halt when he received his cancer diagnosis.

Instead of traveling to see his family, the 1985 Loyola University Maryland graduate found himself in the hospital on July 6, 2013. He was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare cancer of the bile ducts.

A biopsy showed the cancer had spread to his liver. At the time, Wilhide qualified for a new Mayo Clinic protocol surgeryso new, in fact, that Wilhide would be only the third man in Maryland to undergo this procedure. His doctors planned for months of intense radiation and chemotherapy treatment, and after completion, Wilhide was put on the transplant list in late October 2013.

You go through every emotion you could possibly think, Wilhide said about his diagnosis. When you have time to think, you think about the ‘what ifs,’ which is challenging Particularly during chemo, you have rough days.

The Wilhide family

The Wilhide family

Then, during a minor surgery in January, doctors discovered an abscess on the liver was worse than they originally thought. Wilhide was immediately admitted to University of Maryland Medical Centers intensive care unit and moved up on the transplant list.

In the early hours of Feb. 10, Wilhides wife was jarred from sleep by the phone call with news that would save her husbands life. A liver was available.

Meeting the family

Right away, you want to know, Wilhide said about meeting the donors family. But you dont know if that opportunity is going to present itself.

Soon after surgery, Wilhide and his wife began drafting a letter to the family to send through the Living Legacy Foundation, a non-profit organization that facilitates donation of human organs in Maryland. The letter was forwarded, and the Wilhides decided to let the process take its course, giving the donor family their privacy.

Four months later, at the regions annual Living Legacy Foundation event in July, Wilhide met the donors family.

Wilhide was all ears, wanting to know about the man who had saved his life. As the conversation continued, the similarities between him and his donor were striking. They had friends in the same social circles. They had played pick-up games of basketball together. They were both avid Ravens fans.

And they had both attended Loyola.

Overall, it was an emotional day for Wilhide. You cant prepare yourself for it, he said.

Slower pace

Wilhide has moved from the fast lane to the middle lane. He no longer works 70-hour weeks in commercial real estate; he spends more time at home with his kids, enjoying family time.

The transplant has put everything into perspective, he said. I do not get disturbed by little things anymore.

Now he dedicates his spare time to helping the Living Legacy Foundation spread the word about becoming an organ donor through events and programs.

He considers his transplant a lucky one, receiving a new liver after six months.

Others arent so fortunatewhich is why Wilhide spends his time educating people why being a donor is important. Through his efforts, nearly 30 of his friends have become donors.

The Wilhide family

The Wilhide family

Following his diagnosis, he also reconnected with Loyola classmates all over the country that he hadnt spoken to in a decade, who called, texted, and sent notes when they heard the news through a website Wilhides wife created to update friends and family on her husbands status.

The reconnected Loyola classmates plan to keep in touch, and the group is even planning a Florida golf trip this year to catch up on lost time.

Loyola has a sense of closeness and camaraderie. Even though they have all the elements of being a university, Loyola has the feel of a small community, he said.

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