Near death, a reversal for life, hope for future

Published May 7, 2007

SPRING HILL - In March, Cecilia Page was given four days to live. Now, after receiving a liver transplant, there's no end in sight.

"I had never been sick before, " said the 32-year-old wife, mother of two, fitness trainer and athletic coach. "I absolutely never had anything wrong."

Not until she began taking a medication, Accolate, mainly prescribed for asthma patients but, in her case, to open her chest wall after an elective procedure. Within eight months, her liver began to deteriorate - "shrink" - she said.

Literature on the medication indicates that liver damage may occur. "It was proven related, " Page said of her condition.

She says she wishes her physician had ordered a blood test to determine blood enzymes sooner.

As for the condition's onset, Page said, "I'm used to just running around, and I started feeling tired. My body was just staying still."

The petite, muscular woman - 5 foot 1, 130 pounds - had been full of energy. She's a personal trainer at Genesis Health and Fitness, a sales representative for State Farm Insurance, and, as a hobby, a varsity cheerleading coach and girls weightlifting coach at Springstead High School.

"The cheerleaders qualified for nationals two years in a row, " she noted. "The weightlifting team won the conference championship, the first time ever for Springstead."

The deterioration of her condition came as a shock, she said.

"You know what your body is capable of, and it's frustrating that your body won't do it anymore, " Page said.

Back in February, she checked into Oak Hill Hospital and was soon transferred to Shands, the medical center at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

She was in and out of a coma and didn't know how serious her plight was, she recalled. Her husband of 10 years, Scott Page, 34, did.

He received the prognosis that she had no more than four days to live. He slept on the floor of her hospital room to be with her.

Her name leaped to the No. 1 spot in Florida for a liver transplant. Within four hours, a donor was found, a 20-year-old man killed in a traffic accident in Puerto Rico.

The match was expected to be more difficult. The donor had to have Page's blood type, Type O, and fit her height and weight. The young man was listed as an organ donor on his driver's license. Page herself is likewise listed.

Page was hospitalized for about four weeks, but was up and walking one day after the March 9 transplant and was released five days later. Her physical fitness "contributed to a quicker recovery, definitely. That's something people should know, " she emphasized.

Several fundraising efforts for the family are under way.

They have health insurance, but there are sundry costs for transportation and motels and medications.

Scott Page has taken off 12 weeks from his salesman's job at Suncoast Roofing Supply in Clearwater to care for his wife.

The surgery was billed at $350, 000, not counting hospital costs.

Frank Pastorelli, owner of Genesis Health and Fitness off Commercial Way, who, with his wife, Dottie Jo, is a godparent to the Pages' daughters, staged a unique fund drive.

Clients on the treadmill, stationary bike and elliptical machine pledged $1 for every mile they put in. And there was a donation jar for others. The project raised more than $8, 000 during March.

Pastorelli said a couple of clients are Harley-Davidson enthusiasts and are talking about a fundraising bike ride.

Spring Hill Christian Academy, where Kamryn Grace Page, 4, is enrolled, is accepting donations. Kyra Raine Page, 7, is a student at Chocachatti Elementary School.

Springstead cheerleaders had a benefit car wash in late April.

The Pastorellis, Page's husband and Springstead cheerleading captain Christine Alberts made a pact that if Cecilia survived, they would honor her near-resurrection with symbolic tattoos. They have.

The inked pictures of Christ's crucifixion are embodied with the date of Cecilia's transplant, and the words recognizing her children's names read: "By the Grace of God, may Raine renew life."

Page says her ordeal has changed her life outlook.

"It makes you appreciate your children and your family, " she said.

"We take it for granted they will always be there. I wouldn't have gotten to see them graduate from high school and their marriages. I was so fortunate to receive the organ. I could live another 45 years.

"After this, I feel like I appreciate life more than sometimes taking it for granted."

Of Scott's parents, brother and sister-in-law, who stepped in to care for the two daughters, Page said: "It makes you so lucky to have your family and everyone around you. We had a lot of people praying for us."

Page must remain off work for three to four months while her autoimmune system rebuilds. When she's deemed healthy, she would like to volunteer at Shands, working with transplant patients.

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

Fast Facts:

Organ donations

- To sign up as an organ donor, designate so when you apply for a driver's license or renew your operator's license.

- Area hospitals offer forms for donor participation.

- Many doctor's offices can provide information.