Harvey Steele had turned yellow.
The year was 1997, and the Toledo radio personality didn’t feel great. His appearance changed, too. He was bloated and had gained so much weight in his lower gut that his children began calling him Buddha. Then, in early August he noticed something else.
“I looked in the mirror, and my eyes had turned yellow,” Mr. Steele said.
The following days and months would alter his life. Doctors said hepatitis C--contracted through a tainted blood transfusion for a bleeding ulcer that occurred 12 years before--was destroying his liver. He needed a new one.
Today, he marks the 15th anniversary of a successful liver transplant and the fresh start made possible through organ donation.
“I was lucky enough to get not one but two transplants. It’s like my obligation to get out there and try to get people to think about organ donation,” said Mr. Steele, 55, who plans to acknowledge the 15-year anniversary today on his K100 morning radio show Shores & Steele.
That’s right: Two transplanted livers.
After receiving the blood transfusion in 1985, Mr. Steele tried to donate blood and learned of a problem. A doctor told him he had hepatitis, but for years he experienced no symptoms.
Fast-forward to 1997 and that tell-tale yellow tint. Mr. Steele climbed higher on the transplant waiting list as his health declined dramatically. At first, doctors said it might be a year or longer until he received a liver. But his rapidly fading health soon sent him to the Cleveland Clinic to continue the wait in the hospital.
“They were just managing symptoms. They were trying to not have me get much worse..., but I was getting much worse,” he said.
Then, the news: a liver was available. Mr. Steele spent hours in surgery on Nov. 2, 1997, but the liver he received wasn’t working.
“I didn’t reject the liver,” he said. “It’s just a thing that happens on some organs. They just don’t want to start up.”
He needed another liver, and on Nov. 5, 1997, doctors performed his second transplant in three days. That’s the liver, and the date, that changed his life. Mr. Steele said his donated liver “is working perfectly” and his frequent health check-ups since then have been good.
“I’m very, very lucky in many, many regards and very humbled,” he said.
Today’s anniversary won’t pass without thinking of his donor. Mr. Steele knows limited information about the man, a 60-year-old electronics teacher, who died of a brain aneurism and donated multiple organs.
He called donor families “the true heroes of organ and tissue donations;” people who “take that horrible part of their life” and turn it around for good, for someone else’s second--or third--chance.
More than half of all Ohio residents with driver’s licenses or state ID cards are registered donors, for a total of 5,213,169 people as of the end of September, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Her father’s experience deeply influenced the career path of Mr. Steele’s oldest daughter Kara Steele. Ms. Steele, 29, is the director of community relations for Life Connection of Ohio, an agency that promotes and facilitates organ donation.
“I decided really from a young age that I wanted to give back somehow,” she said. “If he had not gone through his transplant experience, I don’t know [if] I would have been as motivated to find work in this field.”
She was a freshman at Notre Dame Academy when her father became ill and received the liver transplants. Ms. Steele recalled how frightening it was to watch her father’s condition worsen.
“All I really remember from that time is just looking at him and seeing him decline and watching his health decline and thinking... ‘Is my dad going to die?’” she said.
She’s grateful every day for the donor and his family and the “incredible decision” to donate organs.
The Blade and area TV stations covered Mr. Steele’s liver transplant saga 15 years ago, and he continues to share the importance of organ donation on air.
“I don’t want it to be about me. It’s just a great vehicle,” he said.
Contact Vanessa McCray at: