Searching for Answers
Early one spring morning in 1982, Earl Howell woke feeling unwell, with the whites of his eyes transformed into the color of lemons. A trip to the doctor gave an initial diagnosis of hepatitis, which proved incorrect and set Earl and his family on a tumultuous journey to find answers. Endless tests, scans, examinations and a trip to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic – finally confirmed Earl was suffering with primary sclerosing cholangitis. The only hope for long-term survival was a liver transplant. At just 35 years old, with a young family, the news was not what Earl hoped to hear. However, his optimistic nature enabled him to focus on the positives. Earl felt confident in the skills of his hepatologist, who was very optimistic and proactive in his care. An experimental drug helped slow the disease progression, but by 1997 Earl’s health had deteriorated to the point that a liver transplant was essential. Later that year, Earl underwent a successful liver transplant at Vancouver General Hospital.
An Ever-Growing Family
This year will mark an impressive 22 years with his donor liver, an achievement that Earl credits in large part to the support and love of his family. Receiving the gift of a healthy liver has given Earl so much more than just a new lease on life. It has resulted in a robust extended family composed of his transplant team, fellow transplant recipients and others involved in promoting the important message of organ donation. Prior to his transplant, Earl lived a full life. He enjoyed a challenging career, was an active member of his community and participated in competitive dragon boat racing. Post-transplant, Earl has not slowed down, focusing his energy on giving back and using his experiences to make a difference.
Using his expertise in dragon boat racing, Earl helped co-found the Gift of Life Dragon Boat Team, a team comprised of transplant recipients and those with a connection to transplant. He has also been a loyal volunteer with BC Transplant (BCT) for the last two decades. He takes great pride in this role and is immensely grateful for the great work BC Transplant does in all aspects of transplantation. Through his involvement with BC Transplant, Earl was introduced to the Canadian Transplant Association (CTA), and has served as the local treasurer for many years. In this capacity, Earl was a member of the CTA team that brought the Canadian Transplant Games to Vancouver in 2018, an experience he feels privileged to have been part of.
Recently, Earl became a patient partner with the Transplant Research Foundation of BC as part of their new patient-oriented research initiative. Research is a side of transplant often overlooked by recipients, but Earl is keenly aware that his longevity is directly related to advances in transplant science. By working with researchers and having a say in the process, Earl hopes his experiential knowledge can help inform the work being done and ensure it is meaningful to patients. His hope for the future is better drug management with a focus on mitigating the many side effects associated with the immunosuppression drugs currently available. He dreams of a future where the need for anti-rejection medication has been eliminated.
The miracle of transplant is not lost on Earl, “How fortunate can a guy get in life? Who would have believed 37 years ago, that today, thanks to the generosity of my donor, I would be able to see my children grow up, get married, present me and my incredibly supportive wife of 48 years with five awesome grandchildren. I have all of this and many healthy tomorrows only because of my donor’s gift, for which myself and my family are forever grateful”.