November 20, 2010

Her son to donate the gift of life

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Cathy Ashland had a dream that the day her life will be saved is Nov. 30.

You see, she's been waiting for a call from her surgeon, telling her what date she needs to get to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston to have a liver transplant.

Her son, Philip McLoy, 29, of Rome, has been waiting, too. He is her donor.

A tall man with blond hair and blue eyes, he will never forget that day his mother called him three years ago to say she needed a new liver.

"She didn't even ask me if I would consider being a donor. I said, 'I want to do it.' "

Cathy, 54, of Waterville, also remembers that day in October 2007.

"We were on vacation in Bar Harbor and I had severe abdominal pain and I couldn't get a grip on it. My husband rushed me to the emergency room and they did tests, and the doctor came in and said, 'Do you have a drinking problem? Your liver is shot.'"

She knew she certainly did not have a drinking problem. Later, she was diagnosed with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, which resembles alcoholic liver disease but occurs in people who drink little or no alcohol.

In her case, it led to cirrhosis, which severely damaged her liver. Cathy, who also has diabetes, spent the next three years in and out of the hospital, while Philip and her family and friends rallied around her.

In that group of supporters are Philip's, girlfriend, Mandy Kenney, and Cathy's stepdaughter, Kelly Hanscom.

We all sat around a table at Cappza's Pizza off Upper Main Street in Waterville Monday, where they talked about life. Philip said he is honored to give life to the person who gave it to him.

"If something were to happen to me, I would die a happy person," he said.

His mother is grateful, frightened and excited, all at once. A gentle woman with long blond hair, Cathy has hazel eyes that well up with tears.

"If you name an emotion, I've probably experienced it, especially with my son donating his liver. What would I do if something happened to him during the surgery? Those are the things you think about. I'm not a worrier, but you don't want your child to die."

Cathy thinks the surgery will happen shortly after Thanksgiving.

"My prediction is Nov. 30. I had a dream a few months ago and that date just stuck in my head because they do transplants on Tuesdays and Thursdays and that would be a Tuesday."

Kelly, her stepdaughter, predicts it will be around Christmas, because that's when miracles happen.

"The miracle of this whole thing for me is that Cathy has spent her life giving to her children and now they're spending their lives giving back to her," she said.

Kelly says her stepmother has spent her whole life nurturing others.

For 11 years Cathy volunteered on a hotline and was a member of the Board of Directors for the Sexual Assault Center in Augusta. She raised thousands of dollars as fundraising chairman for more than 10 years, was appointed by the governor to the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group, and was given a governor's award for doing more than 1,000 hours of volunteer service. She also worked with men in a batterers intervention program.

She still is working, even though she is extremely exhausted. An office manager for Kennebec Behavioral Health, she is eligible to be on disability, but chooses instead to keep working.

"I work because it keeps my mind busy," she says.

She is humbled by all the support she is getting -- even from people she doesn't know. A benefit dinner and auction Nov. 27 at Waterville Elks Lodge for her is sold out, but there is plenty of space at the dessert and auction. Kelly says those wanting more information may call 557-2032. Cathy acknowledges she is a bit uncomfortable with all the attention, but feels blessed.

"I struggle with this because I'm not used to being on the receiving end. Not that I don't want to be -- it's just not my personality."

Her insurance covers her transplant, but medical, travel and other bills are mounting. Her recovery will be long, and she will not be able to work for several months. Those closest to her, however, are confident she'll get the help she deserves.

Mandy, Philip's girlfriend, is sure of it. Mandy will be at the hospital, as he loses part of his liver and Cathy receives it.

"I'll have between 10 and 14 hours to worry about two people that I love, so 'Mom' -- Cathy -- is teaching me how to knit so I have something to do."

Mandy, 30, is a pillar of strength in this little sphere of love. She said she will absolutely be by Philip and Cathy's hospital beds for the duration.

"I won't leave without them -- except at night, when they make me."

Amy Calder has been a Sentinel reporter 22 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at acalder@centralmaine.com

 

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