Chris Heward - [email redacted]
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A Message From Mike:
About 14 months ago I was diagnosed as having hepatitis C. which causes severe havoc to the liver along with a domino affect of other problems. Fortunately the diagnosis was made early and only a very small portion of my liver was damaged. Ironically though this proved to make a liver transplant premature and traditional drug treatments without prescription coverage would be too financially burdening. Some new drug treatments were as high as $5,000.00 a month. I was told by my highly respected liver specialist in Ottawa that if I could maintain myself on minor medications and a low salt/protein food regimen I could be eligible for a liver transplant in two to two and a half years.
I took the news as best I could and I continued to try to earn a living performing anywhere I could in Canada--hoping and dreaming for a financial break in other side projects. Unfortunately it was already an uphill battle. Years ago when I went public about being bi-polar manic depressive I found that it had interfered with my reputation as a desired headlining comedian and had even prevented me from getting certain jobs. I refused to back down despite "˜advice' to the contrary and remain proud of the work I have done with "˜Stand Up For Mental Health' which at it's core attempts to eradicate the stigma of mental illness.
The downward economic times had been slowly getting worse and now several setbacks occurred as my liver began to affect certain aspects of my performances such as; energy, concentration, balance, and even my hearing. At one point I couldn't perform for 3 months which put a humungous strain on my financial and marital situation.
Bonnie, my saint of a wife, who for years had begged me to move us back to Canada (something I should have agreed to years ago) struggled to keep us afloat and hold on to our modest home in Glendale California. On her two days off from her job (that doesn't even pay to cover the mortgage) she continues to handle everything financially including our home renovations so we can hopefully sell it for a reasonable price and cut all our ties there. I certainly wasn't helping much on the financial end. On one of few visits to see Bonnie over the last year I tripped over a curb and broke two ribs leading to more U.S. medical bills. After getting us out of credit card debt finally after the last three years Bonnie reluctantly jumped back into deep debt. My wife has been through hell and back so many times but she still hangs in there with me. I am so profoundly proud of her and will love her with all my heart and soul forever. Sometimes I feel like Job, from the bible, but I refuse to turn my back on God and continue every day to pledge to Bonnie that I will not give up this fight.
Thankfully over the last year with the occasional gig from Mark Breslin's Yuk Yuk's, my corporate agents Judy and Nancy at Callback Ent., and especially Matt Billon--who has taken chance after chance and gone with me on the road for several BlackJack Comedy Tours--I managed to send some money back to Bonnie. Unfortunately on the last Black Jack tour in B.C. in March, which took Matt and I to these tiny little venues and places--most I had never even heard of--which was fine for me--work was work and the audiences were great--I had an "˜incident' on stage that was a result of a problem with my liver for some reason. I had no idea of the symptoms leading up to the "˜incident' but for about a week I had experienced severe itching on my legs and I had been continually nodding off like a junkie. Matt and I shrugged it off as just being tired performing shows--28 shows in 28 towns in 30 days. During a performance about five days later I just flipped out on stage to the point where Matt had to pry the microphone out of my hand to stop me from repeating the set up for a joke for the umpteenth time. I was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. My fluids were flushed completely and I was put on heavy antibiotics. The doctors were unsure exactly what had happened but they speculated it was some kind of liver poisoning. I was released four days later and finished the tour on fumes and returned to Ottawa on April 1. I had a scheduled appointment with my liver specialist on April 11 and a airline ticket to go see Bonnie the next day back in California.
The final knock out punch for me came on April 5, around 11:00 p.m. I experienced pain in my stomach that felt like it was something trying to claw it's way out. I would rank it up there with my old kidney stones, migraines or any other painful experience I've ever had. I was admitted into Ottawa's General Hospital ICU unit. I had contracted a severe infection somehow that shut down my liver which in turn shut down my kidneys. By the end of my three week stay about 12 litres of infected fluid had been drained from my stomach and antibiotics were changed twice to combat the severity of the infection. Without going into the many gory details--I wouldn't wish the entire experience on my worst enemy.
Four days after being released from the hospital I had an appointment with my liver specialist to access the multitude of test results. The news was devastating. I was told that the recent infection that I was recovering from was so severe that I couldn't wait two years for a liver transplant. My specialist sent an e-mail to Toronto (they don't do liver transplants in Ottawa) to begin procedures to possibly get me on the cadaver liver donor list. My specialist also told me that even though she had never had a patient die on her in this situation, it was an extremely long shot that another infection could be too strong for the antibiotics I was on and would kill me if I didn't change my lifestyle dramatically.
From the very start of this whole thing I was not allowed to drive anymore. Now I can't fly and shouldn't travel--for any great length--for work or certainly not for any frivolous reasons. As far as performing my act--My specialist suggested I do it just in Ottawa (like it's a 9-5 job I can show up and do it in the same place Monday through Friday) Even for work my specialist insisted I wait for a few months pending weekly blood tests and nutrition evaluations. (one of my favorites--I had to turn down Just for Laughs 30th Anniversary this year) Bonnie--who I haven't seen since New Year's Eve (we talk on the phone every day--thank God for cheap cell phone plans) immediately cashed out our retirement savings plans to maintain things for a few months so we don't lose everything. God willing we can be reunited in Ottawa as soon as possible.
One bit of good news (I hope) I received a letter saying I have an appointment for an initial assessment to get on the donor list in Toronto on June 12. My brother John a.k.a. Johnny Vegas will drive me. I hope I get accepted. I have to admit for the first time in my life I'm really afraid--What if I don't get accepted?--How long will it take if I do? Then there's the guilt. There's more deserving people on that list than me...
One ray of hope though is my specialist told me about living donors, which could possibly be a member of my family. Unfortunately my immediate family are all ineligible--Thus the main reason for this message but also the source of my struggle to find the right words to say. I've always prided my self for never taking hand outs and being self sufficient. At times I feel I'm going through these recent events in my life because of the sometimes unfeeling, cruel arrogance of my youth and no matter how many charity events or good things I've done in my life--I feel that maybe what is happening to me now is what I deserve. I am not without sin. Maybe it's been so hard to write this message because I'm ashamed to ask for some thing I'm not sure I would have the courage to do myself. Maybe it's the thought of everyone declining to help. In any case I just couldn't ask like I was asking a simple favor despite any advice otherwise. I felt you had the right to know the story behind my situation. Simply put--I need a living donor...
You would have to be the same blood type as me: O Negative. (my specialist also mentioned something about O Positive maybe working too) The way it was explained to me by my specialist is that a portion of your liver would replace my liver then both the portion inside of me and the rest of your liver would regenerate to full size. The liver is one organ that is truly amazing in it's abilities.
Obviously intent would be the first step towards tons of procedural red tape and logistics but one baby step at a time. I know this is not a normal thing to ask but I just simply don't know what else to do.
Thank you for reading this and God Bless you all.
- John Tannahill
- Sherry and Jody Johnson
- Teresa Cerar
- Stephen Largy
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