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Reflections on losing Lisa

Tuesday, 19 March 2019. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Reflections on losing Lisa
Lisa Husband at a 2015 benefit held to assist with costs associated with her liver transplant.
Photo by Shannon Robison

My Little Corner
Reflections on losing Lisa

March 20, 2019 issue of Shootin' the Breeze
By Shannon Robison

One of the greatest joys that comes from my job as publisher of Shootin' the Breeze is meeting people from all walks of life. 

To be invited into someone’s world to listen to their story, and to craft something that truly represents them, is a great privilege.

After doing this for almost eight years, I count the people of our community as this newspaper’s greatest asset.

It’s an honour to share these narratives. Some are fun and others are serious. Some are uplifting and triumphant while others are heartbreaking. 

Each is unique and each has its own impact on our readers and on me personally.

The best stories I’ve written have flowed easily from connections that sometimes develop spontaneously during interviews.

The number of times I’ve entered someone’s living room as a stranger and left with a hug at the door from a new friend delights me.

I have never considered myself a reporter. I believe my writing is strongest when I am a storyteller instead, and while I have specific questions in mind, I approach most interviews as conversations.

The person I’m speaking with chooses quickly whether or not to trust me and it means a great deal to hold that trust.

Personal relationships are built on these conversations, not on interviews and I consider myself lucky to know many on a level deeper than may have been shared through the published story.

Some of these pieces involve life-and-death circumstances and outcomes that touch one’s heart.

One is the story of Lisa (Davis) and Benji Husband, that dates back to 2015.

You may recall Lisa’s need of a liver transplant and the surprise turn that, while none of her family could be a living donor, her husband Benji was the match.

This couple inspired me, as they did so many others.

They fought together through years of medical challenges leading up to the organ transplant in 2015 and stood together through countless hospitalizations and highs and lows in the years since then.

Together, they became champions for organ donation and shared their journey and their love story via an online blog aptly titled Take Part of Me.

The blog was an outlet for the couple, whether it was providing a simple update or sharing the raw emotion and anxiety of going home after a long stint in hospital where there was a sense of 'safety.'

Lisa battled courageously and it never once crossed my mind that she might not make it, or that she and Benji wouldn’t one day have the family they dreamed of together. 

Their faith in a better tomorrow was solid and they were determined to beat all the odds and to due that from a foundation of deep love and commitment to one another.

On Monday morning Lisa went into septic shock and did not recover. 

To Dawn Davis, Bob Davis, Loreen and Don Husband: you raised incredible kids who touched many by telling their story with brutal honesty — may you find solace together and know that the legacy Lisa and Benji created together will live on to inspire many more. 

The Take Part of Me original story, published in 2015, is included below. I hope you will take a moment to reflect and to consider signing an organ donor card in her memory.

Rest in peace, Lisa.

20150930 Husband

Lisa and Benji Husband are preparing for a liver transplant in the fall of 2015, where Lisa received a gift of life from her husband.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Husband

Take Part of Me: Young couple prepares
for live organ transplant

From Sept. 25, 2015 issue of Shootin' the Breeze
By Shannon Robison

Lisa my love, your life has been anything but easy. As we stand here today, I know in my heart, that I was truly sent here to save you. From this day forward, I promise I will be anything you need me to be …

“I truly, truly believed this,” says Benji Husband of the vows he made to Lisa Davis on their wedding day, four years ago. The words have taken on even greater meaning as the couple have dealt with Lisa’s escalating health issues.

“I’m not a big believer in soulmates, but it’s crazy that we ended up together,” Lisa says.

Lisa grew up in Lundbreck, and few were aware of her medical struggles. Her mom, Dawn Davis, still lives there, while her dad, Bob Davis, lives in Cowley.

Diagnosed with ulcerative colitis as a teenager, Lisa has developed primary schlerosing cholangitis (PSC) overlapping with hepatitis B, and needs a liver transplant. After a long wait, she was listed last January for transplant, and is now preparing for surgery, which is tentatively booked for Oct. 19 in Edmonton.

Lisa’s mom assumed she would be a match as a living donor, but after much testing it was determined that she was not an ideal candidate. It was devastating when she received the call at work, and it still brings her to tears.

“They said, ‘You’re not going to be the match,’ and I just stood there with the phone in my hand and didn’t know what to say,” Dawn says. “I remember phoning him (Benji) and saying, ‘It’s not me.’ He said, ‘It’s OK, I’m going to keep testing.’ ”

The young couple have dealt with Lisa’s illness through their entire relationship, and when a transplant became the only option to keep Lisa alive, Benji didn’t hesitate to offer all he had. He assumed, at first, that he would be a support person and caregiver, but didn’t waver when they learned he was the best match as a living donor.

Dr. Bertus Eksteen has been treating Lisa since 2011. He is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Calgary, and a transplant hepatologist at Foothills Hospital. He specializes in PSC and has one of the largest clinics in the world.

He says PSC is completely incurable and is caused by an overactive immune system. “It’s important to stress that Lisa’s illness is not related to a bad lifestyle,” he says.

Lisa feels Dr. Eksteen saved her life when he replaced her surgically-implanted j-pouch with an ileostomy four years ago.

While it was a life changer, Lisa has struggled with a loss of self-confidence since this surgery.

Benji is understanding. “Women tend to have more self-image issues than men, and it’s been difficult for Lisa.” He notices changes as her acceptance grows. “I know she’s overcoming all these obstacles and I’m really proud of her for that. Everyone has accepted her for who she is, but it can be hard for her to see that from the other side.”

As a result of the liver disease, Lisa’s body feels like days are nights and nights are days. She struggles at times to maintain focus and deals with short-term memory loss.

“We’ve been through stuff that no couple should ever go through,” Benji says. Their love for one another and the joy they share in being with one another is what keeps them together.

Now, they can begin to look forward and to see a new, bright future that is more than a dream. They are counting the days until the transplant.

Benji’s surgery is a big one. “The biggest impact for him is that he will need to regenerate and regrow half of his liver,” Dr. Eksteen says. “Your body needs a lot of energy to do this, and there will be an increased demand on his body during this time.”

“Lisa will have a much tougher time of it,” he adds. “It’s a very, very big surgery to get through for somebody who’s already sick from liver disease. Her chance of not surviving is about 12 per cent, and there is a 20 per cent chance of very significant complications such as infection and rejection, to the liver just not working.”

It will take a year after the transplant before Lisa is fully healthy. “This will place additional strain on the pair of them,” says Dr. Eksteen. “Benji will be tired and not where he was for six months, and he will need to care for her for another year. They will need supportive family and friends.”

This support appears to be in place. Dawn will stay with them in Edmonton and Calgary as a support person, as will Benji’s mom, Loreen Husband of Dauphin. This means considerable time away from work, but both say they have very understanding employers who are willing to accommodate their needs and absence.

“I think about it every day. It’s pretty scary to see two of them going in at the same time, but I know they are in good hands,” Dawn says. “We can say we’re strong moms all we want, but those will be our babies in there, and somebody’s going to need to pick us up when we fall.”

“Because it’s a severe disease over a long period of time, it often leads to the breakup of families, loss of friendships and breakup of marriages,” says Dr. Eksteen. “Leading up to a transplant, people often ail for many years. It’s also financially penalizing, which places huge stress on the family.”

Lisa and Benji were counselled that 90 per cent of couples do not stay together through the transplant process.

“I gave him an out before we were married,” Lisa says.

Benji didn’t take it. He didn’t even consider it.

“We are very proud of him,” says Loreen. “There is a lot of mixed emotion. To risk his own health, safety and security for the woman he loves is huge. He walked into this with his eyes open, and it validates that we taught him to be a giving, loving person.”

Dr. Eksteen sees possibilities for Lisa and Benji. “It will open up new things for them,” he says. “Neither have been able to follow careers, and Benji has dedicated his life to her. They haven’t been able to plan a family, and this now becomes a realistic option. This is a hope for them to really start living and building their lives and careers and family.”

Benji is anxious in this time leading up to the surgery, while Lisa feels scared. “I’m not scared of the surgery, but I’m scared of what comes afterward,” she says.

“I’m anxious,” Benji adds, “but for the first time in a long time, I’m happy.”

It’s easy to think of their story as one of a damsel in distress and her knight in shining armour, but Benji says there have been some very dark times in the past five years. They’ve lived in constant fear of Lisa’s disease, and now there is light at the end of the tunnel for them both.

“I’m not sure it’s a good thing, but I don’t think I’ve ever accepted that death is a possibility,” Lisa says.

Without hesitation, both Lisa and Benji say that a perfect day for them in the future would be to have a baby.

“All Lisa has wanted is to be a mom, and this disease has taken that away from her,” Benji says. After a healthy recovery, starting a family together is their next dream. “She needs to be a mom, and that’s going to happen,” he adds.

They are also excited at the prospect of giving back and helping others once they have recovered.

Lisa knocks on the wooden kitchen table while saying she hasn’t been in the hospital for about five months. It is important for her to be as healthy and as strong as possible in these weeks prior to the transplant.

Benji has learned to administer medication and monitor for side effects. “It took a very long time to get onto a good antibiotic plan,” he says. “Nurse Benji was giving her antibiotics night and day, and finally after so much trial and error they’ve found something that’s working. Now we just need to make it to the 19th.”

They are grateful for the flexibility and support that Benji’s employers, Errol Nystrom and Dale O’Brien, have offered. A donation made by their company left Lisa and Benji in awe.

Sandy Paterson of Pincher Creek has been instrumental in spearheading fundraising and awareness for Lisa and Benji.

Sandy learned that behind Dawn’s smiles, something devastating was happening — her daughter was dying. “I was heartbroken. She asked if I could help her. I cried,” Sandy says. “Raising money to help Lisa and her husband … was a small but meaningful challenge that I gladly accepted.”

Sandy put her skills and connections to work. She came up with the name Take Part of Me, created a website and asked country recording artist Lori Kole to write a song. Dawn began writing a blog, a Facebook page was created and a GoFundMe account was established.

You may even recall a pirate passing out eyeballs in the Pincher Creek parade. On them was a link to www.takepartofme.net, where people can learn more about Lisa and Benji, and about liver disease. That pirate was Sandy.

With help from Daryl Burton and Dawn, she has organized a fundraiser this Friday evening at the Lethbridge Lodge to help the couple with their financial burden. It includes dinner, silent and live auctions and music by Lori Kole and Hillbilly Arms.

A highlight of the evening will be the debut of Lori’s song and video.

“It’s going to hit a lot of people,” Dawn says. It’s their whole story wrapped up in a song.”

Sandy isn’t finished yet. “Next up is film. The story of this young couple has touched me and everyone around them, with awe-inspiring courage and love. It’s what movies are made of. And, I will make it so."

Take Part of Me Fundraiser 2015

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Take Part of Me 31 web

This song was played during dinner at Lisa and Benji's Take Part of Me fundraiser. My fork stayed poised, halfway to my mouth, as I listened to the words and strained to see the video from my seat. When it was finished, I lowered my fork and wiped the tears from my cheeks. The room stood still later when Lori played it live for Lisa and Benji to dance to. Music and love are powerful.

Video prepared by Jon Boyette after Lisa's passing


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