Cadwell credits 'divine intervention' for new liver
March 3, 2023
Cloquet resident and WKLK sports guy Dwight Cadwell has a new lease on life, and a new liver.
He and his wife, Diane, got the call that a donated liver was available just before midnight on Feb. 18. The doctor told them they needed to get to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester within 5 to 5 ½ hours. Diane made it there by a little after 4 a.m. She may have exceeded the speed limit, despite her hatred of nighttime driving.
"When you know you have to get there for a liver, you get there fast," she said.
By 5:30 a.m. Dwight was in surgery.
For nearly 10 years, the Cloquet resident had been living with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, a liver inflammation and damage caused by a buildup of fat in the liver. He'd been working with doctors for years to keep the disease in check, but this summer his liver decline accelerated.
In November, doctors called the Cadwells to tell him they were moving him to the immediate liver transplant list. There are two options for liver transplants: an entire liver from someone who is deceased, or a living donation of a portion of a person's liver. Dwight ended up getting his liver from a deceased person who had checked the donor box.
Both Dwight and Diane talked about all the events leading up to the liver transplant during a phone interview Wednesday morning.
"That liver wasn't supposed to be for me," Dwight said. "But the person slated to get it couldn't accept it, and the tests said it would work for me."
On the afternoon of Feb. 18, Diane Cadwell had done a little venting on Facebook.
"It was getting old, watching him go downhill every day," she said. Then that same day a lady messaged me whose mother had a liver transplant. 'Is your stuff packed?' she said. It wasn't, because we were thinking our daughter was going to be the donor."
Four hours later they got the call and raced to Rochester, where a snowstorm hit AFTER they arrived. A priest - versus the on-duty chaplain - just happened to come in before Dwight, a staunch Catholic, went in for surgery.
"I think there was a lot of divine intervention at work there," he said.
For Dwight, the call came after feeling miserable for a few weeks.
"You're in pain, don't feel good, tired, wiped out," he said. "It was like being hit by a truck, but I felt like that every day. Now that part (the truck feeling) is dead and gone."
Diane said there's a noticeable difference. "Our daughter was here, walked in and said, 'You look so much better. You look like my old dad again.'"
Of course, he still has pain, but it's tolerable. The surgery left him with a Mercedes Benz logo on his torso, running from the top of his sternum to under the rib cage on both sides. Doctors cut through his stomach muscles as part of the procedure.
Laughing hurts, but that's a good problem.
With the exception of bleeding that required an additional 90-minute surgery, recovery is going well, Dwight said. He was in intensive care for only one day. Nurses had him sitting up and walking the very next day. Diane said he saw about 30 doctors in the first 24 hours, sometimes three at a time. "It's mind-boggling, really," she said.
Discharged Sunday but still under doctors' care, Dwight and Diane are staying in a hotel across the street from the Mayo Clinic for another three weeks. They have 22 appointments - many of them educational - before they are tentatively scheduled to return to Cloquet.
"It's a lot of education from the doctors and the nurses. They want to make sure you 100-percent understand, because we're not going to be nearby," Diane said.
For now, Dwight is still getting blood tests every other day so doctors can continue to finetune his medications. He will stop taking some eventually. Others, like the anti-rejection meds, will be a lifetime prescription.
Diane, who has been taking time off work to be with her husband, called the hotel stay their longest vacation together, ever. They're enjoying what spare time they have, treasuring the simple things like a trip to Walgreens and Dairy Queen on Tuesday.
"It's been good for him to get out," she said. "And it's amazing what they did to him, how much he can do now. The physical and occupational therapists are kind of surprised how well he's doing."
Although all five kids have been to visit since his surgery, the couple are looking forward to coming home. There are things to do, grandkids to see, a lifetime to return to.
"Knock on wood, if everything's going good our last appointments are March 16 and 17," Dwight said.
But even when they return to Cloquet, it won't be life as usual. There are foods Dwight can't eat anymore, and things he can't do because his immune system is compromised by the anti-rejection drugs. Lunchmeat has to be microwaved first, digging in the dirt isn't allowed because of all the spores. He will likely wear a mask when he goes out, and avoid large gatherings for a while. Buffets are out. So is grapefruit. Other fruits and vegetables have to be thoroughly scrubbed.
Dwight will have blood tests at Essentia, which has a portal to exchange patient information with Mayo. They will also be making trips back to Rochester. It will likely be a while before he gets back to work at the radio station. The doctors said he should take things slowly, he said.
They've both been touched by the kindness of friends and strangers over the past few months. The kids, who are all grown, have been wonderful.
"I want to thank everyone for all the prayers, everyone that's reached out, our kids especially," Dwight said. "It's been an amazing journey."
Diane also said she's found new friends through Facebook transplant support groups. "Not everybody is as lucky as Dwight has been," she said.
Diane said the nurses told them they like working in the liver transplant unit.
"They see people come in feeling so crappy and in a couple days they have a new life," she said. "It's amazing to see the transformation."
She sent thanks to the folks back home too, in particular those who tried to be live liver donors for Dwight.
"Through this journey they are also heroes," she said. "They were going to give up their livelihood to help him. Even if they couldn't, they were willing. We really appreciate that."
One of those potential donors was their 35-year-old daughter, Chelsea. Now living in Lakeville, she is now in the second phase of testing and has decided she will continue and be a live liver donor for someone else.
For those who would like to donate, the Cadwell's have a Go Fund Me at https://gofund.me/9ab96f04