Homer man waiting for new liver

By Michael Armstrong

Homer News

Published: Thursday, Dec. 22 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

HOMER, Alaska — During this season of giving, Shane Campbell has already received one of the greatest gifts of all: the love and support of his community.

Now he's hoping for an equally amazing gift. The gift Campbell waits for might come January when he visits the University of Washington Medical Center to see if he qualifies to go on the donor list to receive a liver.

On Sept. 11, days after his 43rd birthday, Campbell became deathly ill with chest pains. After exploratory surgery and a difficult recovery, he wound up taking a LifeMed Learjet to Seattle — a $75,000 air ambulance ride.

Eventually he got the diagnosis: end-stage liver failure. In mid-October, doctors gave him a one-in-four chance of living 90 days. What caused his liver disease, no one knows for certain.

He's been sober for 15 years and didn't drink much before that.

"My idea of going out and getting drunk was two drinks," Campbell said.

He doesn't have hepatitis, either. One doctor, a naturopath, told him he has "chemical hepatitis," a poisoning that might be related to high levels of arsenic and antimony that hair strand tests of Campbell showed.

Whatever the cause, his liver is scarred and losing function. Since September, Campbell has lost 50 to 65 pounds. He can't work. Beyond going to church and visiting his mother, Susie Hokkanen, he doesn't get out much. He has to rest frequently. Meals are protein shakes. Until recently when he was able to get short-term Medicaid assistance, Campbell didn't have medical insurance.

Campbell was born in Anchorage, grew up in Homer, and except for nine years in Anchorage, has lived most of his life in Homer and Anchor Point. He and his wife Leah have three daughters: Brionna, 21, Mariah, 18, and Casey, 15, with Casey still living at home.

The Campbells own a modest home near Stariski north of Anchor Point. With the home paid off, the Campbells are remodeling the local way, room by room.

Campbell's younger sister, Shana Valente, calls her brother "a selfless, compassionate and giving man ... the hardest worker I know." With Leah, he runs Dirttco, managing and selling gravel from a pit near Blackwater Bend.

The business is on hiatus and Leah's main job is taking care of her husband.

"She takes a lot of time taking care of me," Campbell said. "I wouldn't trade her for half-a-dozen nurses."

Until he got Medicaid, the University of Washington Medical Center wouldn't even consider him for treatment. Get health insurance, Campbell was told, or come up with $500,000. Running his own business, and keeping his family fed, he couldn't afford health insurance. One time when he worked for someone else and could get health insurance for his family, it cost him $1,000 a month, and that was catastrophic, high-deductible insurance.

At those rates, "Why not just make monthly payments to the doctors?" Campbell said he figured.

Before receiving Medicaid, Campbell racked up almost $300,000 in medical bills. The Campbells paid some of the bills with $30,000 in savings they'd put aside for Leah's knee surgery — now put off with Shane's more immediate medical crisis.

"We tried to pay everybody something," he said. "The way I look at it, I want to try and send them something every month."

When he gets on the transplant list and gets a new liver, Campbell faces medical costs like $30,000 in anti-rejection drugs the first few months, and $12,000 a year in drug bills the rest of his life.

Friends in Anchor Point and Homer have rallied around the Campbells. One friend, Matt Trail, organized a spaghetti feed and auction that was so successful they ran out of things to sell. Trail set up a bank account for the family, Friends of Shane Campbell, at First National Bank, that now has $16,000 in the account.

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