Port cop’s birthday gift is lifesaving transplant

Gary Belzer, whose illness inspired community fundraisers, receives a new liver days before turning 48

PORT WASHINGTON POLICE OFFICER Gary Belzer has received an outpouring of support from the community and his fellow officers since learning he needed a new liver last year. Belzer received his new liver Thursday, Aug. 2, at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, two days before his 48th birthday. He was visited that day by a number of friends and family members, including his son Gavin, 12 (right photo). Right photo courtesy of Marie Belzer, left photo Press file photo
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington police officer Gary Belzer received a special birthday gift this year — a new liver.

Belzer, who turned 48 on Saturday, received the new liver during a four-hour operation at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee on Thursday.

Things went well, and the following day Belzer was back in surgery as doctors attached the bile ducts to the liver — a procedure they don’t do until they are sure the liver is working properly and producing bile, Belzer’s sister Marie Belzer said.

“He’s doing good,” she said Monday.

Belzer had been on the transplant list for about 14 months, after non-alcoholic cirrhosis hepatitis, aka NASH, destroyed three-quarters of his liver.

He was diagnosed with the disease in 2015, and has been plagued by health issues caused by it since then.

Last week’s surgery was actually the third time Belzer had been placed on alert that a liver might be in the cards for him, his sister said.

Early this year, she said, he was notified that he was second in line for a liver. The person who was first in line received that organ.

Then, about a month ago, Belzer again received a call saying a liver was available. He was second in line again, his sister said, but that liver was not viable.

About 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1, Belzer got a call that an organ was available and he was second in line, she said.

Belzer and his wife Kristin rushed to Froedtert Hospital, where they took 38 vials of blood and ran an electrocardiogram and took X-rays in preparation for the transplant.

About 4:30 a.m., the couple learned the liver had been harvested, but it wasn’t until about 5:45 p.m. that Belzer’s doctor Johnny Hong, head of the transplant unit, told him the organ was his.

“It was so surreal,” Marie Belzer said.

The transplant operation took four hours, she said, and when it was over, doctors told the family the liver fit Belzer perfectly and began working immediately.

In addition to transplanting the liver, surgeons also removed a blood clot above the organ that he has had for several years and which caused his spleen to become enlarged, his sister added.

He opened his eyes a little Thursday night, she said, and after Friday’s surgery to connect the bile duct was doing well.

“He was more awake. He was able to write notes to everybody,” his sister said. 

Belzer, was on a ventilator to help with his breathing, was weaned from the machine Friday night into Saturday morning — his birthday.

Belzer had a number of family members and friends visit on Saturday, and by Sunday he was sitting in a chair and was able to walk around for a little bit.

He was in the transplant intensive care unit, she said, but was expected to be moved to the transplant floor Tuesday.

Belzer has started to take anti-rejection drugs, something he’ll have to do for the rest of his life, and doctors have told him he will face the change of his body rejecting the new liver for the next three or four months.

“He’s still not out of the woods yet,” his sister said.

Doctors are also monitoring him, watching for pneumonia and blood clots —something he’s had a history of, his sister said.

Belzer is expected to remain in the hospital for another three weeks, she said, and it will be at least four to six months before he can return to work as a police officer.

Because of that, she said, the family is considering holding another fundraiser to help pay his medical bills. Donations continue to be accepted at Port Washington State Bank.

Fundraisers for Belzer, who is also an assistant coach for his sons’ basketball, football and baseball teams, held earlier this year demonstrated just how much support he has in the community as people turned out in droves to 

 But as happy as Belzer and his family are that he has received a liver, they are cognizant that it means someone died to make that happen, his sister said.

“There aren’t words in the English language to honestly express gratitude correctly,” his wife wrote in a Facebook post after the surgery. “When the only reason you are here every day is because of an act of giving from a person you can’t even directly thank. You can’t imagine how much it means to us to donate life...

“My heartfelt thanks go to the family and donor who gave Gary his new liver and all other families who made this difficult choice. An amazing gift for a second chance at life.”

The family has been promoting blood and organ donation since Belzer became ill.

“I feel this is part of my calling as a police officer now —if I can express this need and one or two people decide to donate, I know I did my job,” Belzer said in an interview in January.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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