Two Lancaster County men prepare for ‘living liver transplant’

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STRASBURG, Pa. - Deciding whether to donate your organs is often a difficult and personal decision.

For Jason Erb, his calling to donate came from Victory Church, when another church member needed a liver transplant.

After plenty of prayer and soul-searching with his wife Deneen and three sons, Erb decided to go through the process.

"It's not everyday you get to save somebody's life," Jason says. "You don't have to be getting something in order to help somebody out."

Ron Gessner's life would be the life Erb saves. He contracted hepatitis C years ago, and although he took medicine that cured it, the disease did considerable damage to his liver, prompting a diagnosis of end-stage liver disease and the need for a liver transplant.

But rather than wait for a donated liver harvested from a deceased donor, which is the traditional method for a liver transplant, he sought out a living donor.

A dozen people came forward to get tested to see if they were a match. Jason was the match Ron needed.

"It's a miracle to have someone like Jason," Ron said.

After many tests, the men are getting ready for the transplant, having spent the last few days with their families.

"When you're doing something that is not just for yourself, it's for somebody else it makes everything a lot easier," Jason said.

The transplant did not happen without plenty of work. Jason lost 35 pounds, apple cider vinegar, daily walks and cutting carbs being the way he did it, he says with a chuckle.

"He brought his blood pressure down under control, changed his diet, he just made sacrifice after sacrifice," Ron said.

Even the potential stress of job loss was eased when Jason's boss at an Amish construction company told him his job would be waiting for him when he recuperates. Jason is expecting to spend about three or four months away from work since he will be under doctor's orders not to lift anything heavier than ten pounds during his recovery.

Jason says he's hoping to set a positive example for his sons.

"I see the change in him and he's so ready and able and giving to do this for somebody," Deneen Erb, Jason's wife, said.

On Tuesday, both men will go under the knife at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Jason's procedure will take between five and six hours, in which about sixty percent of his liver will be removed. Ron's procedure will take between ten and twelve hours, in which his liver will be removed and the portion of Jason's liver will be transplanted.

Within three or four months, barring any complications, both men will have fully functioning livers.

The men and their families are aware of the risks.

"We are together pretty much 24/7, and I just can't comprehend doing life without him," Rhonda Gessner, Ron's wife, said. "Watching him, I would have to say I'm so proud of him."

"If anything happens, I know where I'm going, so I'm comfortable with that," Jason added. "I've prayed a lot and everything just keeps on working out for me."

The men and their families say they are practically inseparable now, brought together through medicine and faith.

"When I was a little boy, I used to pray that I could have a brother," Ron says. "That was a prayer I would always pray, and God blessed me not only with a donor, but a brother."

After the transplant, the men will spend between seven and ten days recuperating in the hospital. Jason has a GoFundMe page to raise funds for medical expenses not covered by insurance as well as living expenses while he is out of work.