When Brian Teubner received a kidney and liver transplant in March 2016, he struggled with the guilt felt by many organ donation recipients.
“The best comparison is a soldier goes into battle and his whole platoon dies and you live, and you say, ‘Why me?’” says 47-year-old Teubner, a manager in the pharmaceutical industry, who lives in East Amherst, New York, a suburb of Buffalo.
But Teubner, who needed transplants after being diagnosed with alcoholic liver disease and liver cancer, says his transplant registered nurse Judy Gierlach has helped him overcome his hardship by performing duties that many would argue go beyond her job description.
“[Gierlach] celebrated blood scores, liver scores and kidney scores,” Teubner says, “and inspired me to go out and celebrate life and be happy about it, and to share my miracle with others.”
Gierlach, 51, explains that many transplant nurses don’t like to get close with their patients due to the emotional challenge of them potentially passing away before receiving an organ match. Due to a shortage of donated organs, an average of 22 Americans dies every day on the transplant waiting list, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.
For some nurses, Gierlach says, “It gets to be too much. But to me, that’s the part of my job I love — I love hearing who these people are and hopefully being able to touch their lives in some way.”
At the University of Rochester, where Teubner underwent his transplant surgery, Gierlach did just that for him.
Paying it forward
“[Teubner] wants to give back … he wants to be that person to help someone who was in the same position he was in,” Gierlach says.
Today, the father of four, who lives a normal and active life, volunteers at the Upper New York Transplant Services (UNYTS) and regularly speaks about organ donation at local schools.
“[Gierlach] taught me not to be afraid and to live life,” Teubner says.