To some, Christmas means celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, to some it means Santa bringing presents to the children, to some it means family togetherness, but this year and for years to come, Anita Droppleman will remember it as a chance to live, thanks to her son, Chris Droppleman, who was willing to undergo a medical procedure to save the woman who took him in as her own, although they are not blood related.
These two people and the story of their Christmas miracle, indicates that family is not the people that you share DNA with, it is those who are there for you, when it really matters.
Last year, Anita Droppleman was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, which is a disease marked by the degeneration of cells, inflammation and fibrous thickening of tissue in the liver. The scar tissue formed bands throughout her liver, which destroyed the liver’s internal structure.
In conjunction with the cirrhosis, she was also diagnosed as having nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is the accumulation of liver fat in people who drink little to no alcohol. There are treatments, which can help with this condition, but there are no cures currently. This condition can persist for years or be lifelong.
Anita Droppleman said that people may have this fatty liver condition and not even know they have it, which was the scenario with her.
Then, in March of 2017, she underwent surgery and had cancer removed around her liver, however, in August she had to undergo another surgery in which three tumors were removed and more were located that the surgeons were unable to remove. Her condition kept deteriorating in between the surgeries, which created a tiresome environment for her day-to-day life.
In June of 2017, Anita Droppleman was placed on the donor list to receive a liver transplant, which she said was a longshot according to her doctor because of the severity of her condition and the chances that there would be a match before the disease claimed her life.
However, her son Chris Droppleman, had a surprise for his mom. Without Anita Droppleman knowing, he decided in September that he would be tested to see if his liver would be a match for his mother, his mother’s ex-sister-in-law was tested and was not a match.
“I don’t know why it took so long to decide to do this [the surgery]. At first it didn’t seem real at all, but then as time past it really hit me and made me realize that this was real. I wanted my mom to be here and that wouldn’t happen unless she got a transplant,” said Chris Droppleman.
Chris Droppleman couldn’t be tested though, until he lost approximately 20 pounds. He then hit the gym, started watching his nutrition and began to take his health seriously, to make this potential surgery a reality.
“I really started focusing on good proteins and cut out the pasta, bread, potatoes and other carbohydrates and starches,” he said.
At the end of November, two days before Thanksgiving, he was tested, and it was declared his liver was a match for his mother, and that he would be able to help her.
On Dec. 4, the mother-son pair were scheduled for surgery, however it was postponed until Dec. 7.
“At this point there were nerves on both sides,” said Chris Droppleman.
He said that the nurses said it was a spectacular thing that his liver was such a great match, considering that the mother and son were not blood related. Chris Droppleman’s father married Anita Droppleman, when Chris Droppleman was just a toddler and has thought of her as his mother his entire life.
The pair went through their surgeries, without complications, however both could have experienced immense complication including rejecting the liver, liver failure, infections or death. Chris Droppleman successfully donated half of his liver to his mother. During Anita Droppleman’s procedure, more tumors were found once the surgeons began operating and removing the non-functioning liver.
“So far, we are perfectly good,” said Chris Droppleman.
Both mother and son have had follow-up appointments that went well. Chris Droppleman will now go back to the doctor after one month, three months, six months, nine months and a year. He will then return to the doctor yearly for appointments which will be used to make sure that his liver is still functioning properly. He also stated that his liver should be grown back completely by his next appointment. An average liver will regenerate within six to eight weeks after surgery.
Anita Droppleman will be weaned off medication and will only be on two medications once the weaning process is over.
“It means a lot for me to be able to help her. It is hard to tell how long she’d be here, if we hadn’t found a way to help her. I hope that she is around another 15 to 20 years or many more years to come,” said Chris Droppleman.
“This surgery and Chris have given me my life back,” said Anita Droppleman.
During the entire process of being diagnosed Anita Droppleman continued to work at her full-time job as a store manager in Weston.
“I just kept pushing, which left me with no time for family. Now that I am healing, I am vowing to start enjoying my family and I won’t be as tired,” she said.
“Without the transplant who knows what might’ve happened. I put everything in God’s hands. He has a plan for everyone and everything.”
“Personal attitude played a large part of the success of the surgery in my opinion and I am so thankful for Chris. We’ve always had a special bond, that bond you get with kids that just melts your heart. I was happy that he was willing to do this for me.”
Anita Droppleman’s mother past away due to a gastro-intestinal (GI) bleed and currently she has a nephew that is fighting for his life.
“As soon as I am back on my feet, I will be helping him [her nephew], find the help that he needs,” said Anita Droppleman.
Anita Droppleman’s mission now is to make people in her family and community aware of the issues that she has faced in the process, and maybe that will help to save a life or to help someone get the treatments that they need. She said that some of her family is starting the process of having testing done to make sure that they do not have issues with their livers as a precaution.
The mother and son’s procedures were completed at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), located in Pennsylvania.
“Pittsburgh really is a great place and we were really happy with the patient care, how soon they could schedule our procedure and everything,” said Anita Droppleman.
Anita Droppleman said that she will be cherishing this Christmas probably more than she has past holidays, knowing that she will be able to spend it with her family.
“We’ve been calling this our Christmas miracle,” concluded Anita Droppleman.