BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The need for organ donors continues to grow in the U.S., with more than 114,000 people nationwide on a transplant waiting list.
Getting on a transplant waiting list is no small task. Patients must meet a lot of criteria. The main one being you are in a crisis; battling a late stage condition that will likely take your life if you don't get a transplant.
That's where a Biloxi man recently found himself. But making the transplant list is giving his family hope.
Jim Smith and his wife Elaine Stevens try to make the most of every day they have together. And these days, most of that time is spent at home.
Jim says, "I'm trying not to dwell on it. We're just doing day to day living. I mean there's not that much you can do about it."
Jim has stage four liver disease.
"I mean you can get anxious, nervous, but it doesn't make your situation better."
What makes the situation better is knowing he is now on the waiting list for a liver transplant at University Medical Center in Jackson.
"I'm hoping to live another ten to fifteen years. That's my main goal: I want to live," he said.
Jim's decline came on pretty suddenly a little over a year ago.
Elaine said, "At some point he started to feel a little fatigue especially in the hot summer heat. And he started to run a strange fever that was recurring, and that concerned us."
Numerous tests and doctor's visits later Elaine says they had the diagnosis.
"It was not liver cancer but stage four Cirrhosis combined with Hepatitis C," Elaine explained.
She said the decline in his health from just a year ago has been dramatic.
"He began to lose a tremendous amount of weight, and if you look at his shoulders and chest especially his muscles are deteriorating."
Jim says the deterioration in health has changed his life dramatically.
"I was a whole different person- thirty pounds heavier, able to work. I enjoyed working. So, yeah it was a surprise."
And coming to terms with it has been difficult. Elaine say it seems like almost overnight Jim went from an active home repair businessman to a man fighting for his life.
"It's the most dramatic change a wife could go through. He's my hero. So, when it comes to seeing someone that strong decline so quickly, it's hard. The ravages of Cirrhosis are aggressive, and they do take their toll on everything," she emphasized.
The disease has put them worlds away from happier, healthier times, and it has tested their relationship.
"You realize love is based on a lot of things. It has made us stronger. We're a good team. We are intertwined. It's almost symmetry. When we work around the house, it's a wonderful flow," she recalled.
And while they try to stay positive, the emotional, physical and financial strain are daunting.
"It's a financial burden we never thought we'd be facing… Everyone in this country has their own dilemma, and we have ours now," she said.
So, now they wait for the call that could save Jim's life. They must be ready in a moment's notice to make the trip to Jackson. Jim says they have no choice but to take a leap of faith if they get the call.
"You've gotta put yourself in somebody else's hands. I mean, the people that we're dealing with are professional, so we have to trust that they're gonna do the best that they can," he explained.
And Elaine is confident the call will come, and the transplant will be a success.
"We have two big birthdays coming up in January. Our birthdays are two days apart. We're going to have a big celebration. We are gonna get through this," Elaine declared.
And to help them get through this friends and family are having a fundraiser this Saturday at Gil's Fish Camp in Ocean Springs starting at 6 pm. They also have a Go Fund Me account here.