La Quinta resident and Contemporary American painter Tom Savage, 58, has been making and selling art most of his life. Savage’s mixed media paintings are a dialogue between drawing and painting reminiscent of European Automatism, Surrealism and Abstract Expression. His work is about the poetic qualities of abstraction.
Savage was also a recipient of the prestigious Pollack-Krasner Foundation grant established at the bequest of Lee Krasner, a fellow artist and the widow of painter Jackson Pollock. This grant is coveted by those in the contemporary art world.
Yet furthering his career with the help of the grant will have to wait because four years ago, Savage was diagnosed with liver disease and was given only 3-5 years to live without a transplant. His painfully deteriorating health prevented Savage from actively pursuing his art career.
Liver disease turns your life upside down, changing everything and leaving the patient with a feeling of denial, despair and doom. The thought of an organ transplant, and figuring out how to get it, is overwhelming. But Savage wanted to live, and began rearranging his life accordingly. As did his devoted wife, who learned how to understand, cope, treat, feed and take care of someone with active, progressive liver disease.
Hard facts on how to proceed with this type of live-or-die health care are difficult to come by… four years of doctor’s appointments, emergency room visits, blood tests and exhaustive poking and prodding, not to mention the paperwork, deadlines and trying to understand the complex criteria for securing a transplant.
First one learns of the scarcity of organs available for transplant in the U.S. Over 113,900 patients are waiting for an organ transplant today (a number that increases daily), and there are an additional 317,000+ patients who are on renal dialysis and not yet listed. Nationally, one person on the transplant waiting list dies every 52 minutes due to a shortage of organs.
Savage persevered, continuing to create paintings as his health permitted. In early March, his wife received “THE CALL” to check into Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla for transplant surgery. The transplant coordinator gave the usual “don’t get your hopes up” speech with the caveat that any number of things could postpone or even cancel his transplant–the donor liver could be damaged, the match may not be right, or it could be something as mundane as a flight delay. But still, Savage was one of the lucky ones.
Many Coachella Valley residents who are desperately ill face long waits for a transplant. Patients are often denied care due to inadequate insurance coverage or their geographic location (and proximity to a transplant center). These ancillary details factor into the process of being listed before a patient is even evaluated for transplant. Sadly, not everyone who needs a liver is a candidate for transplant. Many become too sick to be transplanted and 50% of the patients who need a liver never receive one.
Savage’s transplant surgery was a success and his scar is a surgical work of art. He was sitting up the day after surgery and walking two days after his transplant. Even the doctors were surprised at how well he was recuperating. Unfortunately, Savage experienced post-transplant complications which landed him back in the ICU. “Bumps in the road” are common with transplant recovery as the body works to accept the new organ. Savage was transferred from the hospital to an acute rehabilitation facility a month after his surgery and continues his recovery today.
The future looks bright for Tom Savage. Soon he will be back to focusing on his painting and taking full advantage of his coveted Pollack-Krasner grant.
The transplant journey Tom and his wife are on has been guided by the FAIR Foundation Liver Disease & Transplant Support Group. If you have liver disease or Hepatitis C and need assistance or referral to a transplant center, please call 760-200-2766.
FAIR meetings are held on the second Monday of every month at 11am at the Portola Community Center, 45480 Portola Avenue in Palm Desert.
The service is free to patients and their caregivers.
Here are the facts:
- There are over 100,000 men, women and children in the U.S. currently needing life-saving organ transplants
- Every 10 minutes another name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list
- On average, 18 people die each day from the lack of available organs for transplant
- In 2011, there were 8,127 deceased organ donors and 6,017 living organ donors resulting in 28,535 transplants
- Anyone can give the gift of life. If enough people were donors, we could end the organ donor crisis in this country.
- It only takes a minute to register online at www.organdonor.gov