Perseverance, Hope and Faith

by Beth Ann Dalrymple

Beth Ann Dalrymple is happy to be a success story and loves telling people about how a liver transplant has transformed her life. She began having symptoms of fatigue and abdominal pain as a teenager but her doctors only knew it was some sort of liver problem. In an attempt to learn more about her disease, she went to the Mayo Clinic in 1978. Doctors there recalled only one prior patient with similar symptoms but couldn't provide a specific diagnosis. Beth Ann returned to Michigan where her local doctor treated her with steroids. Although her liver disease partially responded to treatment, the liver was slowly being damaged and deteriorated. Beth Ann recalls an epiphany at age 21: "I realized I had to live my life to the fullest for whatever time I had. I fully realized the importance of relationships with people and developed strong ties with friends. When you look at life and realize how short it is or how short it could be, well, it changes your outlook and priorities a lot." Dr. Robert Fontana echoes "She's really quite a unique and remarkable person to have suffered for so long, dealing with chronic illness for most of her life. She was in and out of the hospital with numerous difficulties and despite that had a very positive attitude and was living her life to the fullest. In addition, she never lost her great sense of humor and confidence in her own future.

When Beth Ann was finally referred to the University of Michigan Transplant Center and listed for a liver transplant, she was very ill. Dr. Fontana said "I was taking care of Beth Ann for around 10 years before she got her transplant in 2006. She and her family demonstrated remarkable perseverance for someone awaiting an organ transplant for so long. Since her transplant, she has done remarkably well and now really wants to "give back". She's always been a perky, positive person looking to improve things. In fact, she was one of the main reasons we got the liver patient support group up and running again. The liver transplant patient support group is one of the many things to which Beth Ann devotes herself these days. Transplant Center social worker Daniel Reid noted that "she really was the driving force behind getting it our group reinvigorated. She understood that it was a greatly needed resource for patients and families facing an uncertain future. She also realized that transplant recipients who've made it through the transplant process had a unique experience and perspective to share with others."

Beth Ann recognizes that she was fortunate to have a career in design and engineering at Ford Motor Company. Although her college degree wasn't completed, she enjoyed a long tenure at Ford before finally receiving her bachelor's degree in engineering from University of Detroit Mercy in May of 2008. Graduating at the top of her class and being recognized as valedictorian two years after getting a liver transplant was the fulfillment of a childhood dream for Beth Ann. A dream that Beth Ann realizes would not have been possible without the kindness of a donation from a stranger and without the medical attention she received at the University of Michigan.

Beth Ann truly loves the Transplant Center. She has found the care and support she receives to only get better over time. She said "the University of Michigan stands out as a place where the care is excellent. The people working here have actually taken the time to get to know me, which is what patient care is all about! Personalizing patient care makes a difference, combine that with the quality of the team of doctors, nurses and staff here at the University and the outcome is excellence!"

Beth Ann has noticed a tremendous increase in her energy level since her transplant. Before her transplant she was sleeping ten to twelve hours a day and it wasn't enough. Now she feels refreshed and ready to go with as little as six hours of sleep. Beth Ann remembers "I waited a long time for a transplant. I was one of the lucky ones. Now I believe I owe it to all of the people still waiting today on the transplant list to promote organ and tissue donation."

Beth Ann has spearheaded an effort with Gift of Life Michigan asking Ford and the UAW to sponsor an organ and tissue donation campaign. Targeting salaried, hourly and retired employees as well as suppliers and dealers, the goal is to increase donation of organs, tissue, blood and bone marrow. The campaign will be worldwide for Ford, kicking off in March of 2009.

Beth Ann is also helping to promote organ and tissue donation at her alma mater, University of Detroit Mercy. Bringing the statewide campus challenge to her school, she is hoping that they will improve upon last year's sixth place performance by working closely with the school of health professions.

Beth Ann reflected on her long and winding road to improved health: "I wouldn't wish 28 years of sickness on anyone, but I am a better person today because of my health issues." Dr. Fontana recognized Beth Ann's personal and professional accomplishments "A lot of people might ask 'why keep trying?' She worked hard during the day and went to school part-time at night for ten years while suffering through her illness. It is quite remarkable that she not only graduated, but was the valedictorian of her class. I'm really amazed at what our patients can do and happy to have been a part of her success."

Today, Beth Ann continues her career at Ford, volunteers at the Transplant Center with the liver transplant support group, and is pursuing her master's degree in engineering. Her story demonstrates the rewards that come from hard work and determination, even in the face of chronic illness. Beth Ann sums up her thoughts when she says "I am going to make the most of this precious gift that I was given by letting people know there is a way to save peoples lives who have an illness/injury that has affected an organ and that is organ donation. When a person has a chronic illness, a family is affected too. An organ can save a life and heal a family. Not only am I grateful but my family is very grateful as well."