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A new lease on life

A new lease on life
A new lease on life
Joe Hemmelgarn, left, and his cousin, Jimmy White of Corydon, at Fort Jackson, N.C., following Joe's graduation from Army boot camp.

If Jimmy White could have his druthers, right now he’d be flying around in a big C-130 cargo plane, preferably one in the U.S. Marine Corps fleet. He would be a master gunnery sergeant, an E-9, telling the pilots what to do and where to go.
He’d have a wife, two boys and a dog. Not just any dog, mind you, but a rare Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, with a black, brown and white coat. And he’d weigh at least 125 pounds, fully grown.
Although there’s no wife on the horizon just yet, Jimmy would settle for a woman who loves him as much as he loves her.
Instead, a year or so ago, Jimmy, 26, was diagnosed with the same rare liver disease as Josh Smitley, who grew up about 10 miles from the White family in Corydon. (See story at left.)
They both have primary sclerosing cholangitis, a non-alcohol-related disease which causes inflammation and scarring of the liver.
Josh received a liver transplant last weekend. Now Jimmy is waiting for the same.
But, fortunately, Jimmy already has a donor. A double cousin, Joseph Ronald Hemmelgarn of Columbus, an Army man, six months younger than Jimmy.
“That’s why it’s such a neat story: it’s an Army man giving to a Marine,” said Jimmy’s mom, Marilyn Hemmelgarn White, who runs a medical transcription business from her home in Corydon.
The procedure for a living liver transplant involves removing a portion of the donor’s liver in an operation that takes four to five hours. The removed portion is placed in a preservative and is later transplanted into the recipient. The small portion of transplanted liver grows to the appropriate size, according to information from the National Transplant Assistance Fund. The donor is usually hospitalized five to seven days.
Speaking from Germany last week, Joe said he and his cousin have always been close. So when he heard of Jimmy’s ailment, the first thing he asked was, “What can I do?”
He was in training at Fort Jackson, S.C. From there he went into advanced training at Fort Lewis, Texas.
“I couldn’t do much at the time,” he said, “until I got out of training.”
But after arriving for duty in Germany, Joe got permission from the Army to be tested, to see if he was suitable to donate part of his liver to Jimmy.
An unusual turn of events led to the OK.
Joe’s sister, Susan Hemmelgarn of Fort Wayne, emailed Joe’s commander-in-chief, President Bill Clinton, seeking help. The Pentagon stepped in, and thus the Army came to the aide of the Marine. Joe was suitable for the transplant.
Now, Joe said he is a bit frightened of the procedure, mostly because he has a wife, Penny, and a baby boy, Peyton, six weeks old.
“I’m not really scared,” he said. “I’ve never had surgery before, and I don’t know what to expect. I’m scared more for my family than I am for myself.”
The National Transplant Assistance Fund is working on behalf of Jimmy to raise funds for the procedure. Costs usually reach $314,500 in the first year; follow-up care and medication runs about $29,100 a year. Other fund-raisers are being planned as well, including a road block and archery shoot.
Jimmy said he has been placed on “temporary retirement” until he is able to return to the Marine Corps. He’s working as a parking valet at Caesars Indiana while he awaits surgery.
Military insurance is expected to cover most surgical costs, but not the related travel expenses and follow-up costs. The surgery will be at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.