Easter brings new life for liver transplant recipient

Photo by Chris Sonnenday, M.D., taken Easter morning.

Photo by Chris Sonnenday, M.D., taken Easter morning.

Easter was already a special day for Nelson and Carole Thulin. The Milford couple was excited to have their three adult children home to spend a meaningful Sunday together, rejoicing in the new life signified by the holiday, and the promise of spring.

This year’s holiday started early, though, with a 1 a.m. phone call: Nelson Thulin, too, would receive the gift of life this year. His new liver was ready, and he needed to head into the hospital for surgery.

“There couldn’t be a better day,” Thulin says. “People were always saying their prayers were with me, and then I spent Easter Sunday in the operating room.”


A genetic disease

His journey to a transplant began last summer, with swelling in his legs that prompted a doctor’s appointment. Thulin learned it was a genetic disease that would eventually deteriorate his liver, requiring a transplant.

4.26_Nelson_signSymptoms got worse, like sporadic muscle spasms that were so intense Thulin was nervous to make plans with his wife.

“I didn’t want to be out in public and all of a sudden yell out in pain,” he says.

Come February, Thulin was put on the list for a new liver. The next month, they received the Easter morning wake-up from the University of Michigan Transplant Center.

“It was nice that our kids were already home for Easter, so we could all be together to support him,” says Carole Thulin.

Chris Sonnenday, M.D., also started his Easter early, boarding a plane to procure the liver that Nelson Thulin would receive later that morning.

“The gift is equally as miraculous every day of the year, but transplants are particularly poignant on holidays,” Sonnenday says. “I am reminded of the incredible sacrifice and grief of the donor family, the excitement and anxiety of the recipient and family, and the hard work of our transplant team members giving time away from their own families to make the transplant successful.”


A quick bounce back

Four weeks later, Thulin has already been working and driving, feeling great through it all.


Carole and Nelson Thulin, four weeks after Nelson’s liver transplant.

“He’s done very well so far,” says Randall Sung, M.D., the surgeon who performed Thulin’s transplant. “It’s still a bit on the early side, but Nelson’s had no complications. I could tell when I met him he’s a very positive person, and he’s already been an advocate for organ donation.”

Thulin is working on a letter of thanks to his donor’s family, sharing how grateful he is for this second chance at life.

“Now we can make plans,” says Carole Thulin. From big plans with the family to a simple date night at the movie theater, she isn’t nervous anymore about how her husband will be feeling when she puts activities on the calendar.

Take the next step:

  • Learn about Donate Life Month, which lasts through April.
  • Learn more about the Transplant Center at the University of Michigan Health System.
  • Encourage your friends and family to become organ, eye and tissue donors. Learn how to join the registries from Wolverines for Life.