Fr. John Mack.

Priest waits and prays for liver donor

By  Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service
  • February 7, 2020

WASHINGTON -- Fr. John Mack, a priest of the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., needs a liver transplant — from a living donor.

Living donors have been judged to be better donors than cadavers. The recipient receives a portion of the healthy donor’s liver (more than half usually), and typically the organ will grow back to normal size in both the recipient and the donor within several weeks. Relatives make the best donors of all.

But Mack, being celibate, has no children. He also is an only child.

Research indicates the best donors are between the ages of 18 and 60. And all of the priest’s cousins are older than he is — and he is 65.

Nobody knows, but Mack, who has been living with liver disease for the past five years — and whose manifestations really knocked him for a loop 18 months ago — could be one of the 20-25 per cent of people waiting for a transplant who die before getting one.

Mack, in a telephone interview last month with Catholic News Service from Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, N.Y., where he teaches, said his prayer life changed when his health worsened in mid-2018.

“Every time I would have an upper endoscopy and have conscious sedation, I would say an Our Father and kind of get myself calmed down,” he said. “But in the midst of all of this, the prayer that seems for me that makes it OK is, ‘This is God’s will. This is God’s will. This is going to happen.’ ”

Despite all of this seemingly bad news, “the miracles keep happening,” he said. Even though Mack has no kin eligible to donate part of their liver, enough people have learned of his plight to call the University of Rochester Medical Center to see if they are a match for the priest that appointments were backed up into mid-February, he added.

“I’m not sick enough to get a cadaver donor,” Mack said, adding, “There’s never enough livers. So the living donor’s liver is somebody who is, hopefully, generous and qualified.”

Mack has nonalcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. 

“Fatty liver disease is the second largest disease of people going in for transplants. I was never a drinker,” he told CNS. “It’s a lot more common than it used to be. Before it was only drinkers.” It results, he said, from eating “fast foods, a lot of food.”

“I would be around 220, 225 (pounds), but when I started gaining over the summer (of 2018), I didn’t realize that I was beginning to look like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon,” Mack added.

Then his weight went from 240 to 165 in a hurry; he’s now at 190 pounds. “People looked at me that Christmas and they were frightened,” he said.

After the first symptoms surfaced, “I learned to live with the chronic illness and I was pretty much back to normal in terms of working,” he recalled. He would teach at the seminary and help out at a nearby parish on weekends. “I used to be able to pack in 12, 16-hour days. I can’t do that anymore.”

It got so drastic at one point that “there were a couple of months I couldn’t do Mass in public at all. I couldn’t be trusted. I ran out of steam,” said Mack.

“I stepped away from the classroom, I stepped away from the parish. I missed that. In the seminary, I could barely walk down the hall. Just to walk to the chapel was nearly impossible. It was after Thanksgiving in 2018 that I could walk down the chapel and vest and concelebrate (Mass) for the first time in months.”

A priest since 1985, his pastoral ministry has included several tours as a military chaplain, with deployments to Colombia, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Pakistan and Qatar. He’s also a graduate of Toronto’s Regis College, a book author and a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus.

Without discussing the particulars of Mack’s case, Dr. Mark Levstik, medical director of transplant hepatology for the UR Medicine Transplant program at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, said: “The organ shortage is one of the biggest struggles we face. That’s because liver transplantation has become so successful. More than 90 per cent of people will survive liver transplantation and do well.” 

There are at least 6,500 Americans and more than 500 Canadians waiting for a liver transplant, and likely more, Levstik said, with “no anonymous bank of willing donors sitting on the sideline.”

Mack said, “I’ve been living with this so long that I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to feel normal, but I’d like to get back to that feeling now. I really would. There’s things I’d like to do. One of them is not being sick.”

(Learn more about Fr. Mack at www.liverformack.com)

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible, which has become acutely important amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.