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.
"It's been very humbling," Leah Campbell said.
Homer and Anchor Point have always pulled together for each other, Shane Campbell said.
"It kind of gives you a better perspective of the people you live with here, the community you live with," he said.
People have come out of the woodwork to help him, Campbell said.
"A huge blessing," he said. "I have a bigger list of people who want to help than things that need to be done."
Trail said he helped out the Campbells because they're friends, and because he'd once been in the hospital with no health insurance.
"I've been in his situation," Trail said. "It's a horrible feeling not knowing what's going on."
The Trails also got help from the Campbells after a house fire in 2007 and when Trail had a death in the family.
"What comes around, goes around," Trail said. "He was there for me in some tough times."
Campbell said Trail reminded him of that help when he asked Trail why he helped with the spaghetti feed. Trail told him, "I can pay you back now," Campbell said.
"He didn't owe me anything to begin with," Campbell said. "He's just a good friend."
For Christmas, Campbell's brother and two sisters will join him and Leah at their mom's house. His grandfather, Ken Arndt, also will be there.
The Campbells go to Seattle on Jan. 10. He'll gets blood tests, and after that sit down with a medical panel to see what's next.
People needing new livers can get live livers, a partial donation. One casual friend offered to donate.
"That guy, it brought tears to my eyes and his eyes," Campbell said.Comment on this story
More likely, Campbell would go on a list to receive a liver from someone who makes the ultimate gift upon death — signing a donor card that allows organs to be used. If he's a good candidate, Campbell would have to be in the Seattle area, within a few hours travel time night or day to get surgery.
Meanwhile, the Campbells will celebrate Christmas with the gifts they've already received, even though accepting the generosity of their neighbors has been difficult.
"It's easier to help somebody than receiving the help," Shane Campbell said.
"When it happens to you, it's totally overwhelming," Leah Campbell added. "It's a good, humbling feeling."