DONATE LIFE ORGAN DONATION AWARENESS-RAPID CITY- MOTHER LOVED SON SO MUCH SHE GAVE HIM A PART OF HER
Source: Rapid City Journal
Danie Koskan Journal correspondent
No present could ever rival the Mother’s Day gift Karen Bestgen received 12 years ago.
After more than two months of fighting for his life, her youngest son came home. His homecoming forever changed the Sturgis woman’s perspective on family.
“As the mother of four, it made me stop and realize that nothing was more important than being with your kids,” she said.
Sean Bestgen was 7 when his liver failed. Doctors today still can’t pinpoint the mysterious virus that compromised his liver.
Sean, now a 19-year-old electrical engineering major at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, can’t recall much about the weekend his parents rushed him to the emergency room in Rapid City.
“The most I remember is that it was Super Bowl weekend,” he said.
The yellow in Sean’s eyes initially warranted a trip to the ER. Then his skin turned a shade of orange.
“The doctors said he was in liver failure, and we had to go to Denver or Omaha,” Karen Bestgen said.
Tim and Karen Bestgen opted for Omaha and soon found their son’s name on a waiting list for a liver transplant.
When it became apparent Sean was running out of time, doctors asked his parents if any family member might be a possible donor.
In a living donor liver transplant, a healthy person donates part of his or her liver. The procedure works thanks to the liver’s unique ability to regenerate itself. The transplanted portion grows to full size in the recipient, and the donor’s liver also returns to its former state over a period of time.
The procedure was fairly new at the time. Karen Bestgen had heard of people donating one of their kidneys but never part of their liver.
But this was a last-minute opportunity to save her son’s life, and she took it. She and Sean shared the same blood type, so doctors began running tests on her.
After two days, doctors decided they couldn’t wait around for results. They had to operate.
“They said we couldn’t wait any longer,” she said. “We were losing him.”
On Feb. 2, 1998, Sean Bestgen got a new liver and a second chance at life.
Since then, Feb. 2 has joined the roster of Bestgen family holidays and celebrations.
“We celebrate Feb. 2 as Sean’s second birthday,” Karen Bestgen said.
The new liver took but not without a second scare.
Ten days after the transplant, the virus that caused Sean’s initial liver failure began attacking his new liver. Sean fell ill again. His doctors posed the possibility of putting him back on a waiting list.
“It was touch and go for about six weeks,” Karen Bestgen said.
Then things began to look up. Doctors took their pint-size patient off his medication. His immune system finally kicked in and put up a fight.
Doctors couldn’t explain the sudden turnaround. One physician called it “divine intervention.”
Sean’s strength steadily returned. When his health improved, he and his mother dug into weeks of missed schoolwork.
“We just kind of plugged through everything,” he said.
Sean missed his first-grade classmates and friends back home. He was overjoyed when doctors decided he was healthy enough to return to the Black Hills.
“More than anything, I was happy to be home,” he said.
The Bestgen family was reunited Mother’s Day weekend. The elder Bestgen children lived with their grandparents during Sean’s absence, so they were anxious to see their little brother.
Being home proved a mixed blessing. Dad, mom and the kids were finally together again, but doctors were no longer standing by to assess and reassure.
“Life was definitely scary,” Karen Bestgen said. “We didn’t have those doctors there every day.”
Fear gradually gave way to assurance as her son resumed a normal life.
The family returned to Omaha from time to time, but only for check-ups and reunions with other transplant survivors and their families.
Today, the Bestgens live with few reminders of the condition that nearly took Sean’s life.
Sean is a healthy college freshman whose main concern is getting through finals week. After that, he’ll head back to Sturgis and work for his dad’s construction company until his classes resume in the fall.
“I’m always amazed at how well he’s done,” Tim Bestgen said. “But it’s something you never take for granted.”
Sean said his experience taught him to live life looking forward rather than looking around and worrying about might happen.
He and his parents say they’re indebted to their family and community for rallying around them so many years ago.
On this Mother’s Day, they celebrate the gift of a mother’s love.
“I admire her for not even hesitating,” Tim Bestgen said of his wife’s decision to donate part of her liver. “I admire the two of them. They’ve had their challenges … just the fact that they’ve been through that, and they never complained.