He will tell his story to all who will listen—more than 300 people so far. He says he has yet to meet the first person who knows a live-donor liver transplant is even possible.
The verdict? Cowan suffered from cirrhosis of the liver, a disease that had been causing a serious deterioration of his liver over the course of several years. His liver specialist determined Cowan would eventually need a transplant.
“I didn’t want a transplant; I didn’t think my condition was life-threatening and the symptoms I had felt normal,” Cowan explains.
But now, and ever since Cowan was introduced to his new liver in September 2013, “normal” has a different definition.
“I feel like I'm 50 or 55 now,” he says. “I'm much stronger, I'm healthier and I'm in better shape than I have been in 20 years.”
After waiting for a cadaver liver transplant for more than two years, Cowan began publicizing he was looking for a live donor in mid-2013. Within two months, six people volunteered to be tested to be his live liver donor. Ted Engle, the 42-year-old son-in-law of Cowan’s best friend—was tested and was a perfect match.
“Ted not only volunteered to be my donor, but he also told the doctors he wanted to be a donor for a pediatric transplant if he and I were not compatible,” Cowan says, adding, “Ted is a remarkable young man.”
Now Cowan is involved with substantial activism for the benefit of patients who need liver transplants.
“I want to help people avoid the problems I suffered through,” he says.
Out of more than 18,000 patients on waiting lists for liver transplants throughout the U.S., only approximately 6,000 are performed each year; and merely five percent (approximately 300) of those involve living donors.
“There simply aren't enough cadaver livers to satisfy the needs,” Cowan says, “and about 10 percent of patients waiting for liver transplants die each year.”
Cowan’s mission: “I want to shrink the list of needed transplants and help prevent the deaths of those who cannot receive transplants in time,” he says.
Cowan now appreciates his new, “normal” life. He golfs, spends time on his boat and works out weekly with a personal trainer, activities he hadn’t been capable of doing in the months leading up to his operation.
Cowan also has a whole new appreciation for the function of the liver, thanks to his life-changing live organ transplant experience.
“Not many people know the portion of the donor’s live transplanted liver will re-grow in the recipient,” he explains. “It's the only organ that can re-grow if damaged or partially removed.”
Cowan received approximately 35 percent of Engle's liver. Engle's liver re-grew to 100 percent in six weeks; Cowan's new liver grew to 100 percent in four months.
Through awareness and education, Cowan hopes to help increase the number of living donor transplants to 10 percent or 20 percent of all transplants.
WANT TO HELP THE CAUSE? More information about Cowan’s crusade to create the Cowan Family Endowed Fund for Living Donation can be found at the Cowan Family Fund page on Cleveland Clinic’s website.