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Stories & Snapshots

Why We Do What We Do: When Death Becomes Life

Epic’s Ann Baggett shares how organ donation has impacted her life and work

Ann Baggett is a writer on the Phoenix team, where she documents the transplant features available in Epic. This topic hits close to home: Her husband Nate is a three-time liver transplant recipient.

Nate was born with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a disease that causes inflammation and scarring in the bile ducts. PSC patients suffer from severe fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, problems maintaining a healthy weight, often unbearable itching, and eventually liver failure. The only known cure for PSC is liver transplant.

“I joined the Phoenix team after Nate’s transplant journey had already started. I assumed my personal experience might come in handy, and it has,” Ann said about the writing she does at Epic. “But what’s been even better is working with other people who also think about transplant every day.”

After waiting for about a year and a half, Nate received an organ in March 2017, when his cousin gave part of her liver in a living donor procedure at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At the time, Nate was a UW medical student and he eventually started surgery residency there. Nate’s medical school mentor Dr. Joshua Mezrich was part of Nate’s transplant surgery team. Despite suffering a blood clot five days after the operation and becoming ill again, Nate completed his final semester of medical school and even gave his graduating class’s commencement address.

Unfortunately, the complications caused by the blood clot ultimately caused his new liver to fail. Since then, he’s undergone two additional transplants, both with livers from deceased donors, under the care of Dr. Mezrich. With the support of Ann and his care team, Nate has overcome severe infections, several more operations, and long stays in the ICU. He’s now continuing his recovery at home, with plans to return to work as a physician when he’s able to.

Nate was healthy enough to visit Epic to attend Dr. Mezrich’s talk about his new book, “When Death Becomes Life,” with the Phoenix team. One chapter in the book is devoted to Nate’s transplant journey.

“In other areas of medicine, we [doctors] fight off death, or help people have a good, more comfortable death,” Dr. Mezrich said about why he chose the field of transplant. “But with transplant, we start with death. I’ve always been touched by that gift of death.”

“Why We Do What We Do” is a series of stories from Epic staff about how their work relates to their personal missions to help our community members serve their patients and transform healthcare delivery.