TRAVERSE CITY — Keith Schaub turned the color of gold a few days before he received a life-saving liver transplant at University of Michigan Hospital.
“My jaundice rating was up to 57. Normal people are less than one,” Schaub said.
Schaub, 35, now looks healthier, thanks to an emergency liver transplant in mid-June. But he can’t return yet to his Internet marketing company, and he’s extremely susceptible to germs. Doctors are suppressing his immune system entirely for three months so his body won’t reject the new liver.
Yet Schaub said his toughest challenge is accepting help from his close circle of family and friends.
“I’ve been really independent, more of the one to help out,” he said. “I’m grateful, but it’s weird to sit back.”
Schaub and his wife Megan talked about his medical journey and a fundraiser set for today on the porch of their rural Interlochen house that he built 15 years ago.
Schaub said this is his second round with a serious disease. In 2006, he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis after his autoimmune system attacked his large intestine.
“My surgeon has done 1,000 procedures, and said this was the worst case he’d ever seen,” Schaub said. “He was surprised to see I could function in my life, if that gives you an idea of my tolerance to pain. I don’t let things get in my way.”
Schaub fully recovered after two surgeries and life long ago resumed to normal. But last September, his skin turned yellow and pain stabbed his abdomen area.
“It felt like 150 pounds of pressure trying to burst through your guts,” he said. “And then it would pass.”
An area specialist diagnosed him with primary sclerosing cholangitis or PSC – an inflammatory disease that hardens and scars the liver ducts. He thought Schaub would need a liver transplant in about 10 years and recommended he visit the University of Michigan Hospital.
“He thought the earlier I get into the system, the better chance they’ll know me,” Schaub said.
U-M physicians agreed he had PSC, yet remained baffled by what caused the jaundice; they sent his case details to specialists across the country.
Schaub returned home and continued to suffer episodes of abrupt pain and yellow skin. Then on May 31, he awoke with a 103.7 fever, earning him an extremely uncomfortable ambulance ride to U-M.
For the next two weeks, Schaub’s bilirubin numbers dangerously climbed. The U-M doctors — he had three teams — concluded his liver was dying, a casualty of his autoimmune system. On June 12, they told him he needed an immediate transplant.
“I felt like I got hit by a truck,” he said. “We had always talked that a transplant was decades away. It happened so quick. Literally so quick.”
Two days later, Schaub began a six-hour surgery, followed by three miserable days in the intensive care unit where his speech refused to cooperate with his brain.
Now Schaub is adjusting to a host of new restrictions and a more cloistered life. He must avoid sick people forever, a challenge with his two children, ages 2 and 5. He must wear a mask in crowds or elevators. He can’t drink well water. He’s on a strict regimen of medications and blood testing. And he was told to never drink alcohol.
Yet Schaub is grateful he can work at home and often reminds himself that someone gave him an organ, a gift.
“However rough it is, how bad it gets, my path is set, and you just have to deal with it,” said an emotional Schaub. “It’s definitely a blessing and a gift for people to donate. I was going to be a donor, but I don’t think anybody wants my stuff now. Too much drugs. It’s all good. It’s all good.”
Megan Schaub choked up, too.
“A journey,” she said.
Sloppy Joe fundraiser for Keith Schaub today
The public is invited to a Sloppy Joe luncheon to benefit the family of Keith Schaub, who received a liver transplant in mid-June. It takes place today at the VFW Hall on Veterans Drive, 3400 Veterans Drive, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Enjoy desserts donated by Sara Lee and Moomer's ice cream. There will also be scores of silent auction items and door prizes donated by the community and local businesses. The cost is $6 per person and children 2 and under are free. For more information on Keith Schaub's journey to recover, please visit www.theschaubreport.com.