Most people run away from fires or try to avoid hospitals.
Coquitlam firefighter Trevor Demoskoff avoids neither.
Demoskoff is one of 160 career firefighters with Coquitlam Fire and Rescue who will leap into a truck at the sound of an alarm, rushing with feverish intent to assist in a crisis.
Demoskoff is also a busy husband and father to a four-year-old daughter when he’s not organizing fundraisers, like the upcoming Mayor’s Ball, for the Coquitlam Firefighters Charity.
But when the call went out for a close friend or family member to donate a portion of their liver to a cousin who was dying of cancer, Demoskoff didn’t hesitate.
This was a crisis that he could handle, he thought, even if it meant possibly risky surgery, a five-day hospital visit and weeks of recovery.
“Cost–benefit analysis? I say the costs are minimal compared to the benefit that could be for him,” said Demoskoff, speaking of his donor recipient and cousin Kevin, also a young dad.
Two rooms, two teams
Kevin, a former Calgary resident who now lives in Portland, Ore., with his family due to his job, had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer that had metastasized to his liver.
Fortunately, Kevin’s U.S. job with Nike had medical benefits, which took care of the medical bills, while an ongoing GoFundMe is helping to pay for living expenses during the operation and recovery.
Even Demoskoff’s surgery and medical bills are covered.
The procedure took the two men to Strong Memorial Hospital, in Rochester, NY, where — after weeks of Zoom meetings with doctors, psychiatrists and social workers, as well as blood work and scans — the surgery happened on May 24.
With his wife, Sandra, by his side, Demoskoff was anesthetized then taken to an operating room while a team of surgeons carefully cut out about 65 per cent of his liver, the right lobe, while the rest was left to re-grow, a process that will take a few months.
Once removed from Demoskoff’s open chest, the surgeons worked on the liver in preparation for transplant while Kevin waited in other operating room with another team of surgeons for the healthy liver.
The whole procedure took about 16 hours from hospital arrival through to post–op, and longer for Kevin.
“He’s being put back together [in the other operating room],” Demoskoff recalled, as Sandra joined him in the immediate aftermath of the transplant surgery.
“We were certainly happy that it was done and happy that things had gone so well,” Demoskoff said.
However, he was facing another three weeks of recovery in a rented AirBnB near the hospital, as well as daily calls home, and missing his wife and daughter.
There was also a painful reaction to some medicine that had to be adjusted.
With so many things to consider with a living donor transplantation, why did the fit, non-drinking, 40-year-old man do it?
Demoskoff does’t get all emotional in considering why he’s devoted his life to firefighting and community service; he credits his parents for instilling good values.
But neither Demoskoff nor his wife shied away from the opportunity to help a loved one.
When given a chance, both agreed to put their name on Kevin’s transplant list, although Sandra, who was soon to discover she was pregnant, had to decline.
Demoskoff kept his name on the list until eventually he was at the top.
A waiting game
“The whole thing started last year: He had abdominal pain [and they said] ‘Oh, you have colorectal cancer’ and it started snowballing from that,” recalled Demoskoff.
“Last fall they recognized his liver was not doing as well and he was approved for the surgery.”
When the call went out for a “living donor,” the Demoskoffs watched the video on social media.
Demoskoff now says Kevin’s prognosis was poor without someone willing to contribute a piece of their liver because he wouldn’t have survived the wait for an organ from a diseased person.
Still, recovery was initially painful and he has a huge scar running from his sternum to below his navel. He can’t lift anything beyond 10 pounds and is on unpaid leave — waiting for his stitches to heal and his strength to return so he can go back to work on light duty.
In the meantime, he’s on a month of unpaid leave, and his fellow firefighters are working his shifts and donating the pay to him to keep his family going — something for which Demoskoff is extremely grateful.
“It’s the brother and sister side of the service,” Demoskoff said. “It’s really amazing.”
Now his extended family is waiting to see how Kevin will do with the transplant; so far, with some additional surgeries, he’s doing well and waiting for clearance to fly back to Portland, Demoskoff said.
A lot of need
Despite the challenges, Demoskoff recommends the procedure and would like to see other people consider being living organ donors.
“The problem is there are too many people waiting for livers and not enough livers to go around.”
Considering organ donation? For information on organ transplants in B.C., visit BC Transplant.
You can also support the Demoskoffs on their GoFundMe here.