Two-time liver recipient is grateful for his second and third chance at life

Justin Shupert, liver transplant recipient


2-time liver recipient, Justin Shupert is grateful for his second and third chance at life

Justin Shupert, 30, of Bellefontaine, Ohio, always knew he wanted to be a firefighter. What he didn’t expect was to be able to not only be a firefighter but also serve his country in the U.S. Navy. For ten years, Justin proudly served as a mechanic in the submarine force, in addition to being a husband and father to three young children.

But five years ago, a routine physical exam would turn Justin’s world upside down. Feeling sick and complaining of constant itching, testing would reveal a devastating diagnosis of ulcerative colitis and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a chronic disease of the bile duct that eventually leads to serious liver damage. Suddenly, his body, which had been able to endure countless years in the U.S. Navy as well as an active lifestyle, started to fight against him.

Getting the call that changed his life

With his serious diagnosis, Justin was medically discharged from the military and was transferred to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to begin receiving care.

“At Ohio State, I was able to receive more robust testing that had never been available to me before, allowing for a better understanding of my diagnosis. At the time, I was working 12-hour night shifts and couldn’t sleep because of all the itching. I was miserable. However, it was a relief to have a medical staff that truly cared for my well-being.”

After testing was completed, Justin was told the difficult news that he would need a liver transplant to survive. After a short month and a half, Justin got the call that all patients in need of an organ hope for — there was a liver available for him.

“I just dropped to my knees. I was so scared to leave my family but so thankful for the opportunity.”

On December 6, 2022, Justin came to Ohio State for his liver transplant. While he was scared of the unknown, he knew that to be the husband, father and son he wanted to be, he needed to be strong.

“I'll never forget waking up in ICU…I felt like a new person. My levels dropped like a rock, my itching was gone and for the first time in a long time I felt alive,” Justin says.

A turn in the wrong direction

The relief Justin experienced, however was short lived. “After a great couple of weeks, I started experiencing a sharp pain,” he says. After consulting my transplant team, I was treated for organ rejection,” Justin says.

Unfortunately, Justin joined the 2% of transplant recipients who experience organ failure after transplantation. Again, he was put back on the waitlist.

“Without the transplant team’s extensive testing, this may not have been found, and I wouldn’t be standing here today. And for that, I am forever grateful!”

New hope again

Fortunately, only a few months later, on November 16, 2023, Justin was matched to a new liver and transplanted a second time. “The Ohio State team stuck by me day in and day out. This team truly became a part of my family! The transplant unit on the tenth floor was my second home.”

Now, four months post-transplant, Justin says he is finally starting to feel like himself again. Years of sickness and persistent itching that permeated every moment of his life have gone away.

“I’m able to be the father and husband that my family deserves. I think my wife is happy because now I can start working on her mile-long honey-do list.”

Grateful to his team, and his donors

Justin feels grateful to the entire team at the Ohio State Comprehensive Transplant Center, from nurses to PCAs to the doctors, he got to know many over the past year. “Dr. Ashley Limkemann was honest and transparent with me while still showing compassion and answering my one million questions. Dr. Lindsay Sobotka was also open, honest and thorough with my care plan,” he says.

Justin says he feels thankful for the people who made the selfless decision to be an organ donor. “They gave me a second and third chance to live,” he explains.

In a message shared to almost three thousand people at the 16th Annual Buckeye Pinwheel Planting and Transplant Reunion at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center on April 7, 2024, Justin reminded those waiting for a transplant that he’s living proof of three simple words: “Don’t lose hope.”

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