(St. Joseph)--Farmers Insurance agent, Bryson Bolton knew he found great customers in the Gerken family. They were big cheerleaders for him...and he for them.
When Bolton opened shop in St. Joseph over a year ago and learned a bit about customer, husband and father, Chris Gerken and his battle with Crohn's disease, it truly touched him in a profound way. The condition had wrecked havoc on Chris' body causing him to develop PSC (Primary sclerosing cholangitis). PSC is a long-term progressive disease of the liver and gallbladder, and while you can survive without your gallbladder, the human body needs a liver to survive. It was clear sooner, rather than later a new liver would be needed...but getting to the top of the organ donation list doesn't happen easily. To make it there, the patient needs to be seriously ill.
On average, three people die every day awaiting a liver transplant in the U.S. In 2019, 8,250 people waited for one to become available, second only to the kidney. More than 109,000 people need a lifesaving organ transplant at this very hour, of those nearly 68,000 people are 'active waiting list candidates' for an organ of some type.
Gerken had been in and out of doctor's offices and hospitals frequently. Often times simple surgeries left him in need of blood and each time thanks to blood donors, it was available. Bolton could tell blood donation was something Tiffany Gerken, Chris' wife was super passionate about.
Bryson wondered how he could show his support.
In 2019, he held his first blood drive at the suggestion of Tiffany. It was a successful event teaming up with The Community Blood Center, and he thought he'd host again. This time however the Gerken family would be his inspiration. Bolton says he was impacted by the journey of this family...he couldn't help but host in their honor.
Just a few months ago, Chris and his family decided seeking a living donor for a liver would give him the best chance at getting one fairly quickly. While struggling with Crohn's disease, Chris remained as healthy as possible...eating right, exercising and trying to stay strong. However, when a donor match became available the family knew they'd have to act quickly.
19 units of blood later...Chris Gerken would get not one, but two liver transplants within just days of one another. It was a journey the family did not expect to go on...and surely not during a worldwide pandemic. The first blessing of a new organ came from a living donor. A person who simply walked into a Nebraska hospital and said, "I would like to donate." Unfortunately, after a successful operation, complications caused Chris' body to reject the organ and once again put him into liver failure.
Due to the severity of the situation people all over the world began praying for the family, and his name was promptly placed at the top of a list for a cadaver liver. This meant someone would have to pass away before Chris would get a second chance at life.
It wasn't an easy time for the family. However, Chris will be the first to tell you, he felt like it was going to all work out. His faith carried his entire liver warrior network of friends, family and even strangers who prayed around the clock. When the call came just in the nick of time, the word "miracle" was on everyone's tongues. It wouldn't be an easy road those next several weeks. The husband and wife team would be apart as Chris healed with his Mom and Dad at his side. His two young children would miss their Daddy's hugs and presence.
Gerken arrived home to Helena just last week to the joy and gratefulness of his family and friends. Bolton says the entire story is truly miraculous and inspiring!
Community Blood Center
Saturday, September 12th
9 am-1 pm