Sandy Altamura moved to Cape Cod last year, but she made her mark in Hopkinton, where she lived for many years and was active in the community, especially volunteering on town committees. Lately she has been feeling the love from her friends and former neighbors here.
According to her daughter, Carrie-Lee Touhey, Altamura was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease in 2018. She was placed on the national transplant list last November, a big step toward making her a priority to get a donated liver.
As it turns out, that liver will come from Touhey, who nominated herself as a donor after finding out they share the same blood type. Touhey then passed the battery of tests necessary to donate part of her own liver to her mother.
Touhey and Altamura are scheduled to undergo their surgeries on Aug. 4, Altamura said she expects her daughter will spend eight days in the hospital before moving home to recover, while she likely will spend about 14 days in the hospital, with a much longer recovery period.
Meanwhile, primarily because Touhey anticipates needing to take off eight weeks from work, the family has asked for assistance on the financial side.
Formed June 9, the family’s GoFundMe initiative brought in more than $9,600 as of June 28, which includes a number of donations from Hopkintonians.
“We are aware how the virus has put a strain on everyone’s lives, especially financially,” Touhey says on her donation page. “Donations will be used for household bills for both our families during our recovery.”
In the meantime, Altamura and her family stay hunkered down in Cape Cod due to the pandemic.
“I’m doing well,” Altamura said. “Hopefully the surgery will be in-and-out, and we’ll do OK with that, too. But I’m feeling fine.”
Touhey describes the surgery as bigger than a marrow or kidney transplant — “not to ever minimize those but to highlight that this is an extremely serious surgery,” Touhey said. “It takes two teams, one for each of us, months of planning to coordinate this transplantation. They even gather and practice the surgery ahead of time virtually using all of our 3D imaging.”
The process of placing on the national transplant list also features hurdles, namely that reaching the top of the list requires the applicant to be at current risk of death.
As of March 2020, the federal government’s Health Resources & Services Administration estimates that 20 people die per day while waiting to be assigned a donor out of 112,000-plus men, women and children.
“Often by the time a patient is sick enough to be at the top of the list, they’re too sick to proceed with surgery,” Touhey said. “I decided to try and do whatever was in my power to see that she never reaches that threshold. … Without a liver, I will lose my mother.”
Altamura was placed on the national transplant list last November, Touhey describing it as a huge milestone for them. This meant the family could then try for both a living donor and a deceased one, giving them more options.
“The decision to move forward with living donation became very clear to me on a personal level,” Touhey said on her decision. “I knew in my heart the second she was diagnosed two years ago that I wanted to apply to give her another chance at life. I just had to see if it was something I was even able to do for her.”
She describes her mother on the donation page as loving, opinionated, fierce and representing the strong “matriarchal force” of the family.
Altamura said she did not see the fund coming, and she referred to her daughter in turn as her love and hero, and a very determined person. On which aspect of her daughter makes her most proud, she replied: “Her giving nature. She gives to her kids, she gives to work, she’s giving to me. She is a giver.”
Altamura also was grateful to those in the Hopkinton community who have offered support.
“I want to thank all my friends who’ve stepped up and helped contribute to this fund,” she said. “It meant the world to me and my family. I was so touched by the people that turned out for me and Carrie-Lee.”