By Rusty Garrett | Times Record
Roy Tipton is a man who has been on the medical equivalent of death row several times.
In 1985, he was diagnosed with auto-immune hepatitis and told he may have 10 years to live - a grim pronouncement for a man of 37. He endured years of medical evaluations and visits to doctors. His name gradually climbed to the top of a crowded donors list - and then dropped off as he contracted two separate pernicious lung infections.
Having battled the infections, he sweated out several "dry-runs" for transplant.
On one occasion, he was an alternate recipient and the primary recipient was given the organ. On another, doctors rejected the organ he was to receive as unsuitable for transplant.
Altogether, 19 years, 11 months and 29 days elapsed between the time Tipton was told he would need a new liver and the transplant.
Today, six and one-half years after receiving a liver transplant, he counts himself much more than lucky.
"I am blessed," Tipton said. "There was no luck involved. It was by the grace of God that these things happened."
Tipton said what he endured changed him not only physically, but spiritually. He is grateful for the gift of life he has received, and is certain all that occurred has been for a reason.
"If I can get one person to donate an organ, to save a life, I will do it," he said.
Another element of Tipton's lesson is to never give up. To someone facing issues as daunting as his, he said the important message is, "fight to the last battle."
He admits nearly succumbing to defeatism at his darkest time, when doctors told him there was nothing they could do, and sent him home.
It was a time when the disease attacking his liver was becoming more aggressive. He was suffering from frequent, brief comas, and even during periods of consciousness, he had no energy.
In a 2005 article about his experience, Tipton told the Times Record: "I remember one time in particular I asked the doctor to give me something to put me to sleep where I wouldn't wake up ... I was tired of living. I was tried of going through everything. It's very depressing to go through and think that this is the way the rest of life is going to be."
He said it was at such times prayers from friends and supporters pulled him through.
He also credits the untiring love of his wire, Cathy, who continued to hope as his own hope was failing.
"She stood by me when I needed her," he said. "There were times I absolutely fought with her as she got me to take my medications."
Tipton first shared his story with the Times Record in April 2005, a few months after the transplant. The occasion was National Donate Life Month, a time designated for raising awareness of the critical need for organ, tissue and blood donation.
The story caught the attention of an Alma woman who knew Tipton in his youth.
The woman put the newspaper clipping aside. She pulled it out earlier this year when her brother, Paul Bottoms, was visiting.
Bottoms, who grew up in Mountainburg, knew Tipton when the two attended Alma High School. The two formed a friendship but parted ways after school. Bottoms moved away, and said he last seen Tipton in 1966 and had lost contact with him.
"I hate medical stories," said Bottoms, a broadcast media veteran who now lives in Richmond, Va. "But that story was the most amazing thing I had ever read."
He said Tipton's experiences had "all the elements" of a great story about a man who, hit with multiple adversities "just kept getting up."
Bottoms said he was so taken with the story he phoned Tipton from a Mountainburg truck stop, then delayed his departure for another day so the two could meet over lunch.
Bottoms said he left his meeting with Tipton even more convinced that his story was one worth sharing. "I felt I ought to use all the talent I can to tell people about it. I thought somebody would want to hear him speak."
Upon returning home, Bottoms said he began contacting area civic clubs to see if they would be interested in having Tipton speak to their group. After receiving no response from Fort Smith clubs, he expanded his offer to clubs in Van Buren. The Van Buren Lions Club responded, and a date was set for Tipton's appearance.
Tipton spoke at the club's meeting last week. He said he was appreciative for the chance to get out his message.
At 63, Tipton said he remains active today, with relatively few restrictions. He enjoys gardening, and already has harvested some peppers and has tomatoes ripening in the backyard of his Barling home.
He said he is most appreciative of the time he has been given to spend with his family. He and Cathy's three children and five grandchildren live nearby, as do his parents.
"I watch what I do," he said. He restricts himself to canned or bottled liquids and eats a sensible diet. He wears a respirator when he works outside as a protection against wind-borne irritants. He said he is also particularly cautious during cold and flu season.
"I have been given the gift of life. I don't want to do anything to damage that," he said.