Hudson -- Is there a double hand transplant in Jeff Belcher's future?
Former tennis instructor Jeff Belcher suffered a catastrophic illness 18 months ago that caused him to lose both hands, his right leg from the knee down, part of his left foot and his livelihood. He is now investigating a double hand transplant.
Belcher, whose family moved to Hudson in 2008, became ill with flu-like symptoms in March 2013. Because he suffered from Grave's disease -- a thyroid disease which compromises the body's immune system -- his condition quickly escalated and he went into a coma which lasted two months and resulted in his multiple amputations.
"In January I went to the hand care hospital out of state for a week of extensive and exhausting medical testing to see if I was a potential candidate for a double hand transplant," Belcher explained.
In March, he received the news that he was, indeed, a candidate.
"I met with the team of doctors to discuss things further and had the privilege of meeting in person with one of the single hand transplant recipients from 2010," he said.
According to the website for the Composite Tissue Allotransplantation program, it is a partnership of physicians and researchers at Jewish Hospital Hand Care Center, Kleinert Kutz & Associates, and the University of Louisville. The group developed the pioneering hand transplant procedure and were the first surgeons to perform hand transplants in the United States.
Belcher and his wife, Lora, have been very busy gathering information on the procedure and all its ramifications. But before he can get on the donor list, he must be otherwise healthy. In the interim he has had six surgeries on his eyes and three surgeries on his heel.
His goal is to get well enough to be put on the donor list for the transplants.
"As the months unfold and steps are taken, I will be eager to move forward in good health so I can be placed on the donor list," he said.
Cost is also a factor. The immunosuppressant drugs alone are estimated in the area of $500 to $800 each month.
"My medical costs are lifelong. As a result, I created a few additional ways for people to help if they would like," Belcher said. "The Jeffrey M. Belcher Benevolent Fund is still active at First Merit Bank in Hudson and I also created a "go fund me" link on my Facebook page," he said.
Donations can be made in his name at the First Merit Bank, 116 W. Streetsboro St., Hudson, OH, 44236.
He said he always enjoys the encouraging words from both friends and strangers during this very difficult time.
"It is so appreciated," Belcher said.
Belcher just received his finalized prosthetic leg, which has a Marvel Superhero theme.
"So appropriate - Superman, Thor, Incredible Hulk, they're all on my leg. I think I am stronger now," he said.
Belcher said Lora is his full time caregiver.
"She is trying to keep the boat afloat but it is, indeed, very challenging," he added.
Belcher and his wife are amazed by the continuing support of the community.
"St. Mary's Church is still graciously blessing our home each week with nourishing meals," Belcher said. "There are a couple of close friends that have never left my side and keep an eye out to help in any way they can. Thank you will never be enough to say to all of those people."
In spite of it all, Belcher still wants to help others.
"My goal, someday is to speak at Walter Reed Medical Center, and hopefully, in as many places that will have me so I can continue to inspire as long as I am on this earth," he said.
And what keeps this young family going?
"My family and I have learned that each and every day there is someone, somewhere in an ICU fighting for their life. We will never lose sight of where I was and where I am now despite the challenges and setbacks that we continue to face.
"The love of my family since the day I awoke from my coma has kept me going," he said. "Life comes down to not what you have but who you have at the end of the day."