Local firefighter who received liver transplant finds new hope helping others
Brian Hinsley, 51, still recalls his seemingly final days 10 years ago.
On March 20, 2000, the then-40-year-old was hospitalized at UCLA Medical Center with a failing liver, caused by complications from a vaccine he received in 1989. Then a pale-colored man, Hinsley was so weak that getting out of his hospital bed proved to be too much. “I had no blood pressure,” Hinsley recalled. “I was extremely confused.”
The once 200-pound Los Angeles County firefighter-paramedic was 110 pounds and carried more than a dozen liters of excess fluid in his belly, his liver unable to process it, he remembered. Doctors told him that a man half his age wouldn’t survive on his liver. “You know you’re dead,” he said.
Doctors had given him hope three times that a liver transplant would turn into a reality, but tests found that the donated livers wouldn’t function in his body.
Hope came back to Hinsley one final time.
In the early morning hours of March 21, 2000, doctors found a liver match. A woman had died following the birth of her only child. She was an organ donor. “He said, ‘Everything is a go,’” Hinsley recalled his doctor saying. “‘It’s your organ.’”
About six months later — right as fire season heated up in the Santa Clarita Valley — Hinsley was back to doing what he loves most: being a firefighter-paramedic in the Santa Clarita Valley.
“This is who I am,” he said. “This is what I wanted to do my whole life.”
At the time, Hinsley was the country’s first active-duty firefighter to return to work following a liver transplant. “I should not be here now,” Hinsley said Wednesday at Fire Station 107 in Canyon Country. “The fact that I am is a gift.”
Beside doing what he loves, it’s his way of showing that transplant patients are vital members of society.
“I want to stay as busy as I can for as long as I can,” he said. Hinsley, now 51, is a self-proclaimed “poster child” for organ transplants who regularly attends benefits and conferences and lends his name to organ donation causes. His life was initially told through an Emmy award-winning documentary, where a film crew followed Hinsley, his wife, Kim, and daughter Megan, now 14, for three years until his liver-transplant surgery.
“God didn’t put me here to watch him die,” said his 51-year-old wife, Kim. The two have been married for 15 years and travel all over the country to support organ donors and receivers. Most of all, Hinsley wants to remind patients in need of organ transplants that they are not alone. “I can at least give (them) hope,” Hinsley said. “You just see that little spark in their eyes.”
The number of people needing organ transplants across the United States surpasses 100,000.
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