SAINT CLOUD, Minn. - Bel Kambach has traveled the globe - 103 countries, to be exact.
But now, the travel and tourism professor at St. Cloud State, is on a journey to save her own life.
“This is an ugly illness,” she says.
After noticing a severe itch on her feet, Bel was diagnosed with primary biliary cholangitis, or PBC, back in 2009. PBC is an auto-immune disease that essentially destroys the liver. Bel says her liver is failing. “This is end stage, this is the last that you get with PBC. Already, your liver is dying,” she says.
There's no treatment for PBC, so Bel's only hope is a liver transplant.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are just under 20,000 people waiting for liver transplants in the U.S., but Bel says she's healthy enough for a little while longer to accept a living donor. Doctors can remove a portion of someone else's liver and give it to Bel.
The donor's liver would eventually grow back, but Mayo Clinic Transplant Center Director Dr. Charles Rosen says it's a procedure that doesn't come without risk.
“With kidney transplantation, for instance, a living donor kidney, the risk of that donor’s life is one in a couple of thousand. For living liver donation, the risk to a donor's life is about one in 300,” Dr. Rosen says.
Dr. Rosen, who isn't directly treating Bel, says it's an extensive process to figure out if someone is a match and that most organ donations come from people close to the patient, like friends and family.
In Bel's case, she needs someone with O-positive blood.
She says ten people willing to donate have been rejected so far. She started an album on Facebook called "My Super Heroes" to recognize them. Some, complete strangers and former students. “A lot of beautiful things have come out from a very ugly one,” Bel says.
Her driving force to find the right match is her 15-year-old daughter, Ilse.
Amidst persistent itching, nausea and extreme fatigue that comes with the disease, Bel says it's being a mother that gets her out of bed.
“I have no quality of life anymore. So to me, death, I see it as a way to finally rest. But, I don't feel anyone can raise my child like I have,” Bel says.
“I want to stay with my mom and I want her to get better,” says Ilse.
So they remain hopeful that the right match will come along, to give life and maybe even a few more countries added to the list.
“I really want to see the ones that I'm still missing because there’s so many places to visit,” Bel says.
If you are interested in being a living organ donor, you can fill out this form online.
You can learn more about liver transplants at the Mayo Clinic here.
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