Decade after multiple organ transplantation, Milford man is good

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Richard Wilson and 5-year-old daughter Ella.

MILFORD – Ten years after having a large part of his insides replaced, Richard Wilson is happy to be alive and to have the chance to be a dad.

When the, now 36-year-old, Milford native was about 17 years old he came down with what he initially thought was a stomach bug.

“I thought I could just ride it out,” Mr. Wilson said of the first time he became very ill.

Little did he know, what he thought was just a stomach virus actually was something so much more and ended up changing his life forever. It ultimately resulted in Mr. Wilson having to have a stomach, pancreas and small intestine transplant.

Despite similar belly issues when he was an infant, Mr. Wilson said he wasn’t a sick child.

“I had problems as a baby. When I was 6 months old, they said I had a blockage,” he said. “But I had a healthy life up until the time I was 17.”
After being sick for some time, Mr. Wilson was finally admitted to the hospital. After a series of tests and exploratory surgery, doctors in Milford were stumped. His case was then transferred to A.I DuPont Hospital for Children.

“There was a whole team of doctors,” Mr. Wilson described.

While his physicians were trying to figure out why he was in so much pain, and often couldn’t hold down his food, Mr. Wilson graduated high school and made plans to go to college.

“Over the years they did a bunch of intestinal surgeries all hoping it would cure things or make things manageable. It ended up making it worse,” Mr. Wilson said.

He was eventually diagnosed with chronic idiopathic pseudo obstruction.

“It is ongoing unexplained symptoms of a blockage in my small intestines,” explained Mr. Wilson.

Things then went from bad to worse.

“It started in my intestines then spread to my stomach,” he said.

He said, his doctors told him that his stomach was getting in the way of his digestion and had to be dealt with. His doctors decided that the best course of action was to reduce the size of his stomach organ.

When he woke up from surgery he learned that the medical team had to remove nearly 90 percent of his stomach and his pancreas.

Then still with failing intestines and missing and reduced organs, he pushed on to reach his goal of graduating college. He enrolled in the elementary education program at the University of Delaware.

He embraced the college experience. He moved into the dorms and went to class, all while having to use a feeding tube to survive.

Unfortunately, college life for young Richard was stalled because the illness and complications with the feeding tube started shutting down his liver.

His days were filled with terrible pain and little in the way of sustenance and nutrition.

“I had to withdraw from school the pain was so bad,” he said.

Since becoming sick that night when he was a teenager, Mr. Wilson says he’d faced death a few times but when he had to withdraw from college he felt closest.

“Graduating college was my ultimate goal. At that time I thought I was going to die. I just wanted to accomplish something. It may sound dumb, but I was going to die trying to graduate college. It was my only goal. I was doped up a lot. I was in a lot of pain. I was fighting a battle inside of myself,” he said.

His battles weren’t just physical, but emotional too during that time.

“I felt like a failure because I couldn’t control things in my life,” Mr. Wilson said. “Every day I looked in the mirror and I was becoming more skin and bones. I kept saying, ‘can someone please help me. I am going to die,’” he said.

Help came in the form of his doctor’s frustration.

Mr. Wilson said when he met with his lead Gastroenterologists he was at the end of his rope. All he could offer was hope of a new procedure, an intestinal transplant. A decade ago the procedure was very new.

Mr. Wilson went home and started doing research. He found a doctor in Pittsburgh, Pa. that was starting to work with intestinal transplants. But ended up going with a transplant team in Washington D.C.

“I was in liver failure and it turns out I was in intestinal failure,” he said.

Thankfully the transplant team took on Mr. Wilson’s case. But in order to get new intestines, the doctors needed to replace what other doctors removed. He needed a stomach and pancreas.

After a few months on the transplant list, donor organs were found.

“I thought once you have the transplant the worst was over,” Mr. Wilson.

He described recovery as a nine month long boot camp.

But thanks to the to the transplant team’s work, Mr. Wilson has been able to put a life together and finish his goals.

“I did go back to finish the last semester of college,” he said.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Due to his health he isn’t able to work as a teacher full time, but enjoys substitute teaching. He often uses his time in the classroom to tell his story in an effort to inspire students to never give up.

Five years ago, he was blessed with a daughter Ella. “I have a 5-year-old daughter, she is pretty much my whole life,” he said. “She loves to sing. She sings all day long. If I didn’t have her to keep me on track, I just don’t know.”

When asked how he was able to persevere, he said he wasn’t anyone special.

“I am not any different or have superhuman strength or anything like that,” said Mr. Wilson. “I believe in God. It was easy to get depressed and feel sorry for myself. I thought about how many times I’ve escaped death.”

When asked how he was feeling now he said, “I am doing good.”

Managing Editor Logan B. Anderson can be reached at landerson@newszap.com. Follow @LoganBAnderson on Twitter.

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