Lyle Adkins

Lyle Adkins, 66, of Paxton, shows a cup that says "New Liver, New Life" while at his home on Dec. 31. The cup was purchased by one of his nieces from Northwestern Medical Center in Chicago, where Adkins underwent a liver transplant, and the words were added to it by another of his nieces.

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PAXTON — Lyle Adkins has a new lease on life thanks to someone who lost theirs.

The 66-year-old Paxton man said he will be forever grateful to that person whose liver is now inside him. Adkins won’t know the identity of the organ donor for at least six months — and that’s only if the donor’s family wants to disclose it through the Gift of Hope organization — but, regardless, Adkins has a place in his heart for them.

The only thing Adkins knows about the donor is that he or she is no longer alive. The donor was brain-dead when their family agreed to donate their liver to Adkins in early December, just before being taken off of life support. A day later, Adkins underwent a successful 13-hour liver transplant at Northwestern Medical Center in Chicago.

“It really bothers me sometimes when I think about it that a person had to die for me to live,” Adkins said on Dec. 31, a week after he returned to Paxton following surgery and extensive rehabilitation at Northwestern. “But the main liver doctor, on one of the last days I was in the hospital, he said, ‘Lyle, you realize that you got the gift of a second life, anyway you slice it.’ And he said, ‘You need to take care of that, because not everybody gets that opportunity.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I hate that a person had to die for me to live,’ and he said, ‘Well, but don’t dwell on it because that person was going to die anyway.’”

A new liver indeed meant a new life for Adkins, who probably would have died from liver failure within a couple of years if not for the transplant. Adkins was diagnosed in June 2017 with NASH (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease), which is the second-leading cause of liver transplants in the U.S. Before undergoing the transplant, he had been in and out of the hospital consistently since his diagnosis.

In March 2019, a doctor at Northwestern gave Adkins the news that he would need a new liver — either a partial liver or a full liver from a live donor. His then-18-year-old granddaughter then made plans to donate a partial liver, but it later turned out that Adkins would require a full liver instead due to the damage his liver already had sustained.

Getting Adkins’ name on the list of candidates to receive a new liver took some time — and effort, too. To start, Adkins, weighing 374 pounds at the time, had to lose some weight. As a prerequisite for getting on the list, Adkins had to weigh below 300 pounds. So, upon the advice of one of his doctors, who is from India, Adkins went on the Mediterranean diet, limiting his food intake to such things as nuts, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and fish or chicken.

“It worked,” Adkins said.

Adkins dropped enough weight to get put on the list last fall. And he has taken off more pounds since then, now down to around 270 pounds. He credits his mother, Phyllis Adkins, with helping in the effort, as she cooks his meals every day.

“I want to be down to 250 by July of 2020, and I’d like to be down to 200 by the end of 2020,” Adkins said.

On Dec. 1, Adkins learned that the liver from the donor was a match.

Following surgery on Dec. 2, Adkins underwent rehab for 4 1/2 hours per day for two weeks. He initially could only walk 25 feet before becoming exhausted, but by “graduation day” on Dec. 23, he could walk 750 feet and climb 14 stairs and come back down, he said.

After returning to Paxton on Christmas Eve, Adkins feels much better, and he said he is slowly becoming more energetic.

“I’ve had so many people tell me since I’ve got out that my color’s good, I look good, and from yesterday to today, I noticed a boost in my energy,” Adkins said.

Adkins said he has to take 23 pills each morning and 23 more each night, most being anti-rejection drugs. Some medications he will need to take for the rest of his life, he said.

Adkins, a former manager of a tour bus company, has been out of work since last August, and his only income is Social Security. While he has medical insurance, some medical bills are not covered by it, leaving him with an accumulation of debt.

To ease some of the financial burden, a benefit is being held from 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, at the Roberts Gym on Weldon Street in Roberts. Adkins said he plans to be at the benefit “at least part of the time” and is “very much looking forward to it.”

Dinner will be served from 4 to 7 p.m. for a donation of $10 per plate for adults and $5 per plate for children. Donations for the meal also cover the night’s entertainment. Attendees have the option to reserve a table seating up to eight people for $200. A silent auction will be held from 4 to 8 p.m., and 50/50 drawings will be held from 4 to 9 p.m. A live auction begins at 7 p.m. At 9 p.m., winners of raffle drawings and the silent auction will be announced.

For more information about the event, to reserve a table at the event or to donate toward the event, people can email or call or send a text to 217-680-1382.