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Oklahoma Liver Transplant Survivor Wins Gold

04 September 2018

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Waiting for an organ transplant can be a long and emotional process. However, having the right team at your side can make a world of difference.

Karen Hoyt is a Tulsa, Oklahoma native, a former high school teacher and a liver transplant recipient. She was first diagnosed with liver failure and hepatitis C in 2010. In July 2014, her INTEGRIS doctors found a cancerous tumor on her liver during a routine exam, ensuring she would need a new liver.

After spending 300 days on the transplant waiting list, Hoyt received a liver from a teenage donor on April 15, 2015. The team at the INTEGRIS Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute worked with her throughout the entire process, from cancer diagnosis to post-surgery recovery and rehabilitation.

In 2016, Hoyt represented the state of Oklahoma in the Transplant Games of America. The next year in 2017, Hoyt went on to compete in the 5K and 3,000-meter walk/run at the 30th World Transplant Games in Malaga, Spain. She won a gold medal in cycling for Team USA.

Recently, we caught up with Hoyt to discuss how she survived liver cancer and went on to become a gold medalist. Here is her inspiring story.

Why was a liver transplant necessary for your health? 

My liver failed in 2010 from non-alcoholic liver disease. It was an emergency room diagnosis, and I was close to death.

I transferred to INTEGRIS to work with the hematology team there in 2011. I managed to keep teaching high school language arts and stay active for four more years with a reduced classroom size. It required a lot of support from my medical team. I had all of the usual complications from liver disease including hepatic encephalopathy, ascites, portal vein thrombosis and many other complications. My team of doctors and staff helped me to manage the symptoms while encouraging lifestyle and dietary changes.

My doctors had me under surveillance for liver tumors or malignancy. In 2015, during a routine scan, they discovered a tumor.

Why did you choose INTEGRIS for your liver transplant?

Being an Oklahoma educator, I knew there were options for which hospital to choose, but for me, there was no question. One of the reasons I chose INTEGRIS and the Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute  is because they have top statistics for patient recovery time, length of hospital stays and longevity post-transplant. 

End stage disease and cancer are messy problems to deal with. Physically, I always felt confident that I was in good hands. The atmosphere in every department from radiology to surgery was always calm and helped me to retain my dignity, even when I didn't feel so dignified. My feelings of fear were always respected, too. They understood my anxiety and listened patiently to my rambling emotions throughout the entire process. 

What was your experience like being on the transplant waiting list?

My husband and I remember it being a mixture of hope and despair. I tried to remain hopeful by using a combination of faith and my medical team. Thankfully, because NZTI has had a premier transplant team for years, they were streamlined in every process we had to go through to get me on the waiting list for a liver transplant.

It was almost 300 days of waiting. During that time, the medical staff, oncologists, radiology staff, labs, NZTI and the INTEGRIS Cancer Institute all worked together to keep my body strong. They monitored my lab work and kept the tumor shrunk while I waited on the list. 

What was your experience like with the INTEGRIS Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute throughout the transplant process?

The level of professionalism helped my entire family remain calm and confident in the middle of a challenging time. Many of the medical staff who cared for me had been there for over a decade. They were respectful, and yet personal. They offered ongoing education to prepare for the transplant.

INTEGRIS provided social workers, financial advisors, hand-holding doctor assistants, top-notch surgeons and lots of communication about every phase of the listing process. I never felt confusion for very long. The staff had ready answers, even when I was overwhelmed and asked the same questions repeatedly.

During post-operative care, I was surrounded by caring and encouraging staff. They helped me regain control of my life slowly. I went home four days after the transplant but continued to live close by for a month. During that time, they educated me in every aspect of life post-transplant. 

How did you get involved with the Transplant Olympics? Did you compete in cycling or running prior to your transplant?

I've always tried to walk, run or cycle. My health declined over the last few years, but even the day they found the tumor, I had my bike in my car and rode Lake Hefner. My doctors understood my need to stay active. I went home and read on the internet about surviving liver cancer and organ transplantation.

After finding the World Transplant Games, I made it my focus for the next several months. I'm three years post-op now. Representing INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center, Oklahoma and Team USA was such an honor. Standing on the podium will always be a highlight of my life. I wasn't there alone. My donor, and all the medical staff who helped me take every step to get there, were all with me in spirit. I participated in the 5K and road race but won in cycling. 

Next year, I will compete in the walk race and also serve as part of the World Transplant Games Federation on the Patient Advisory Commission. It's my goal to encourage other transplant recipients in healing post-op. 

The Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute

The Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute is a nationally recognized transplant center. In addition to performing transplant surgeries for all major organs, the institute also has a dedicated organ retrieval team and provides a comprehensive transplant medicine program that specializes in the treatment of conditions for liver, kidney, pancreas, heart and lung problems. The institute also has a dedicated organ transplant intensive care unit, to ensure that all NZTI transplant patients receive the best quality care both pre- and post-transplant. The Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute at INTEGRIS is routinely ranked among those with the nation’s highest success rates.

For more information about the INTEGRIS Liver Transplant Center, call 405-949-3349.