A dad who underwent a liver transplant has shared before and after photos of himself taken just six weeks apart to show the incredible impact of organ donation.
Gareth Weeks, 37, was diagnosed with an incurable chronic liver disease six years ago and last year doctors said he was in urgent need of a new organ.
After seven months of anxiously waiting for a call – with a hospital bag waiting at the door – he finally got the news to say a match had been found.
By that time his skin was extremely yellow due to jaundice – his liver unable to filter his blood properly – as seen in a shocking photo taken just five days before his transplant.
But a photo taken in the exact same spot just six weeks later, along with his smiling daughter Zara, six, shows just how far he has come in such a short time.
Dad-of-one Gareth, from Dunfermline, Fife, is sharing his story of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) and organ transplantation to educate and inspire others.
Gareth said: “Things are hopefully looking better for me now – but that wouldn’t be the case without the amazing team of medical experts and all those involved who helped me along the way.
“If I didn’t have an organ donor who has given me such an amazing gift – I honestly do not know where I would be right now and what my life would look like.
Gareth, then a fraud analyst, started to feel unwell in 2016 but put it down to being a tired, first time dad.
“Even if I got a good night’s sleep, I would be exhausted,” he said.
He had jaundice, stomach cramps and lower back pains, and doctors said his liver function was “slightly off”.
An ultrasound of his gallbladder revealed small stones which needed removed.
But further tests revealed he had primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) – a chronic liver disease where the bile ducts become inflamed, scarred and eventually blocked.
When this happens, bile builds up in the liver and causes further liver damage.
“I had no idea what it was,” he said.
“The surgeon told me to not google the disease but I of course did – and remember reading it puts you at a high risk of contracting cancer, a 10 to 12 year life expectancy and only curable through a liver transplant.
“The consultant told me to think of the positives as they were 99% sure that I didn’t have liver cancer.
“But at that moment I couldn’t think of any positives – I was 32-years-old, had a wife and young baby to look after, and a great job that I enjoyed.
“Over the next few months I was trying to come to terms with having a chronic illness but it was strange because physically, other than being tired, I felt fine.”
His health peaked and troughed over the next few years.
His bile duct closed and he had to have a stent fitted – which took three procedures to get right – he lost 15lbs and later got sepsis.
Brave Gareth, who has raised thousands of pounds for charity PSC Support, said: “I tried not to allow what was going on to impact my mindset.
“I just didn’t dwell on anything, and was able to just block things out, but the whole experience was a lot more difficult for my wife and daughter.
“They were my motivation.”
Gareth, who joined a drug trials to try and find a cure, became extremely unwell in 2021, and was finally referred for a liver transplant assessment in April.
He was put on the list in September, packed a bag which remained at the front door, and got “the call” on May 16 at 5.59am.
“I was told my phone could never be on silent,” he said.
“I knew as soon as I was called and told they had a liver for me, I had to leave for the hospital within an hour.
“I remember looking at my wife when it happened, exchanging a glance that said ‘this is it’.
“Once the surgeon gave the go-ahead, the next thing I remember was waking up in ICU at 8.30am the next day with a breathing tube in my throat”.
He was discharged two weeks later, and doesn’t know anything about his donor.
For the first time in almost six years, Gareth’s bloods have continued to improve and all of his liver function tests are within normal range – and his skin is no longer yellow.
The family recreated his ‘before’ transplant picture to celebrate his recovery.
Gareth, who is taking 16 tablets a day, said: “There is still a long road ahead to feeling back to normal and although I look much better I’m still uncomfortable and don’t have much stamina.
“But because of the generosity of my donor and their family I am excited about my future again.
“I want to go back home on holiday to South Africa, finally use the bicycle I bought a few years ago and start golf again.
“But really the main thing is simply to get back to ‘normality’ in terms of family life and having more energy to do activities with my wife and daughter.
“They are amazing and I couldn’t have done it without them.
“I will be forever grateful and don’t yet have the words to fully describe how I feel other than ‘my donor is a true hero’.”