Portland Police Officer Saved Within Hours of Death
Donate Life Northwest
Todd Teats was within hours of death at OHSU. After a last-minute organ donor passed away and a gruelling surgery that took the surgeon to her limits -- plus 37-units of donated blood, he is back to being a living father for his two sons.
Portland Tribune: Portrait Special Edition
By Kathy Kwong, April 2015
TODD TEATS CELEBRATES RECEIVING THE ULTIMATE GIFT
Sherwood’s Todd Teats knows firsthand what it is like to go through a near-‐death experience, and he knows equally well just how much that kind of experience has made him appreciate life and family.
Just last summer, Teats was number one on the waiting list for a transplant to replace his liver, which was rapidly deteriorating due to Primary Sclerosis Cholangitis. The disease damages the bile ducts of the liver and ultimately destroys the vital organ. Although the disease progresses slowly, there is no cure or specific treatment for PSC. In Teats’ case, the disease left him in need of a liver transplant.
Coincidentally, Teats — a Portland Police detective — was quite familiar with the condition. About 10 years ago, his brother went through the same ordeal and also had to receive a new liver from a donor. Throughout his brother’s wait, Teats was by his side. In anticipation of a lifesaving liver for his brother, Teats underwent tests himself to determine if he could donate a portion of his own liver. When his liver enzymes came back abnormal, Teats was told that he had the same condition.
Although Teats was unable to serve as a live donor for his brother, a cousin offered to donate a portion of his liver, and then — days before that option — a donor liver came through and saved his brother’s life.
Meanwhile, Teats, a loving husband to wife Kristi and father to two young boys, contemplated his own fate. Because of the trauma his brother’s condition caused his family, he opted to keep the news from his wife and sons. The early stages of PSC are almost symptom free aside from abnormal blood tests and liver enzymes.
Kristi Teats found out about his condition a few years later in a letter from Todd’s doctor explaining that, “the PSC is advancing.”
In 2011, six years after receiving news of his condition, Todd started to experience symptoms of PSC. His bile ducts were getting blocked, he had to have blood tests, and doctors performed a procedure to drain the liver as a “bandaging option” to buy some time.
A year after the bandaging option, Todd Teats went through the evaluation process at Oregon Health Sciences University in order to be added to the donor wait list. The Teatses went through meeting after meeting and numerous counseling sessions, but Todd Teats was finally accepted and listed in 2012. They were optimistic and had a game plan in place for the day of the surgery.
“The big question,” Todd Teats said with a laugh, was “’Will you live long enough to receive a transplant?’”
After six months on the waiting list, his health rapidly declined. Water retention prevented him from getting dressed and tying his shoes. He became so fatigued he could no longer work.
Then, after days of staying home from work, Todd Teats received a call that said a donor liver was available. The moment they’d been waiting for had come. The Teats family packed up and went to the hospital to get Todd prepped for surgery.
Just hours after their arrival, however, they found out the organ was not viable. At this point, they were informed by the hospital that Todd was at the top of the list awaiting a donor organ. He was now the sickest person in the region in vital need of a transplant.
“It’s like a double-‐edged sword. You want him to be at the top of the list, but that also means he’s very sick to be number one,” Kristi said.
At the rate Todd Teats’ health was declining, time was not on their side. They were sent home.
Three days passed and then they got another call from OHSU that said a liver was on its
way. There was only one catch; there were complications with the organ. It was only strong enough to limp him along until a better organ came through. The Teats family had to determine whether Todd should go through with a transplant, then risk a second transplant operation when a more viable liver was available. Feeling optimistic about the frequency of donor organs coming through, they passed on that liver and continued to wait.
What people may not know about donor organs is that many factors determine viability. In order to be a match, a recipient must have the same blood type, a similar body size, and the organ must be in good condition.
“Unfortunately, in America, the obesity rate is so high that those livers are not always viable, or there’s just too much damage from whatever trauma someone went through,” Todd explained.
Back at home, Todd tried to maintain as normal a life as possible given his declining health and lack of news on donor livers. One late evening in June of 2012, after a day of trimming bushes and hanging out, Todd felt overwhelmingly fatigued.
Then came the bloody vomit. Kristi rushed him to the ER. He never got a chance to say goodbye to his two children who were asleep.
Todd was experiencing mass bleeding from the veins in his throat, a result of the liver not working properly. He was transferred to the intensive care unit at OHSU where they sealed his veins to stop the bleeding. Then came kidney failure. Teats would not recall the next week of events. Life for the Teatses revolved around the ICU.
Friends and family from all around gathered at the hospital, unsure of what was to come. Meanwhile, Kristi, who was by her husband’s side from the beginning, was faced with the burden of telling their two children about the grim situation.
“I’m going to get all sad. He’s out in the ICU and I have to come home and talk to our kids and let them know that their dad might not make it,” Kristi recalled. “So, just a lot of hard emotions.”
The same cousin that stepped up to be a liver donor for his brother 10 years earlier, stepped up once again and offered to donate a portion of his liver to Todd. However, at this point, Todd’s health was so poor that doctors would not release him to fly to Denver for the surgery.
After a week, Todd recovered enough to be moved out of the ICU, but he remained at the hospital. His doctors visited often and reassured him that, any day now, a donor organ would be available. Days passed, then weeks with still no word of a viable liver.
“It was like a perfect storm for how sick he was and no viable organs,” Kristi said. Adding insult to injury, Todd would suffer another episode of mass variceal bleeding and kidney failure. At this point, his liver was shot and he was moved back to the ICU. Doctors estimated that he would live just two days.
But another week passed at the ICU. Todd remained unconscious since his return and was moved onto a ventilator. His INR score was increasing, which meant that his body’s blood-clotting ability was decreasing. Even if a viable liver did become available, surgery might prove fatal.
Close friends and family gathered at the intensive care unit. Prayers and love filled the hospital space that was now known as “Camp Teats.”
Then came the miracle. A viable liver was located, and Kristi had minimal time to digest the news before Todd was prepped for transplant surgery. The operation started at 9 p.m. that evening and continued to the next morning.
“You always envision how it’s going to go down. The trip to the hospital, giving your kids a hug, kissing your wife goodbye and seeing them on the other side,” Todd said later, noting that none of that turned out to be true for him.
When the surgeon spoke with Kristi following the surgery, she informed her that Todd went through 37 units of blood, bleeding profusely throughout the procedure.
They learned later that the transplant team had pushed the limits in order to perform the operation, the surgeon informing them that it was the hardest surgery she had ever done.
Within an hour after surgery, however, Todd woke to his wife telling him he’d had a transplant. Still groggy, he touched his abdomen to find staples, then proceeded to give a thumbs up, a fitting gesture from a mild mannered and gracious individual who remains grateful and optimistic about his second chance at life.
Four months post transplant, Teats returned to work at the Police Bureau. He said he has more energy now than before the transplant. Both the Teatses say that they’re so thankful for all the people that came together to support them throughout the process.
“It really restored my faith in humanity. I work with great people, but we deal with a criminal element so it’s hard sometimes to remind yourself how good people really are,” Todd said.
Their community, friends and family made it a priority to get together to cook meals and take the Teats boys to activities.
They raised money through fundraising efforts and brought a check to the Teats’ home. Todd’s work staff made donations in the form of gift cards and donating time with the family. Someone even offered — anonymously — to provide free yard work.
“The giving was just endless,” said Kristi, who is now a volunteer with Donate Life Northwest. She has also spoken at the Sherwood DMV personally, thanking the employees there for their efforts in saving her husband’s life. Donate Life Northwest, formerly the
Oregon Donor Program, has partnered with the Oregon DMV in signing up organ donors and saving lives for 40 years.
These days, the Teat family is optimistic about the road ahead. They continue to reach out to their community and educate people on how to become organ donors and sharing the importance of organ donations.
But becoming a donor isn’t always enough, Todd Teats said. Donors must also educate and inform family members and next of kin regarding their wishes.
“The hardest part for doctors and hospital staff is that, although a person is a registered donor, they may not have had the conversation with their family,” Todd said.
When that happens, viable donor organs are sometimes buried with the deceased, leaving one less recipient saved.
“We’ve always known about organ donation since Todd’s brother, and if we can help educate people about organ donation and what it can truly do, then people like Todd don’t have to wait until they’re hours away from death,” Kristi said. “Maybe we can get more viable donors out there and people can get transplanted sooner.”
“After going through this, we want to give back, volunteer and educate however we can,”
Todd said. “Now, I can continue be a good dad and husband. I can go back to work and give back to my community.
“The donors are the true heroes of everything and we were given the gift of being recipients.”