Liver transplant recipient to run Marine Corps Marathon

15 months after receiving a liver transplant, he is preparing to run in this Sunday's Marine Corps Marathon.

VIENNA, VA (WUSA9) - Next time you have a bad day, think of Steve Nugent. 

Last year, the Vienna, Va. man was so close to death from liver disease that he said goodbye to his family. Then, he got a call that saved his life.

Now, 15 months after receiving a liver transplant, he is preparing to run in this Sunday's Marine Corps Marathon.

"We had said good bye. I was trying to say goodbye," said Nugent, 53.   

In the spring of 2016, he was so sick he was literally green. They had some fun with that on St. Patrick's day, but by May, his situation was dire.

"They knew every night there was a chance that I would fall asleep and not wake up," said Nugent.

Then one day, he got the call they'd been waiting for.

"She said, 'Steve, we have an organ for you.,'" he recalled. 

"It's a crazy feeling. You're so happy that you got the call, but you really know at that moment, things are going to change one way or the other. You're either going to live through, or you're not going to make it through the surgery. I was that weak," said Nugent. 

His wife Diane drove him to UVA hospital for the surgery. They had to make it from Vienna to Charlottesville within three hours. It was rush hour. They arrived with only five minutes to spare.

"I was so thankful, but kept saying prayers for that family," said Diane Nugent.

Steve places his hands over the right side of his abdomen: "I always say to myself, that person gave me their liver,  but I'm going to give them my heart for the rest of my life."

That's why he's running the Marine Corps Marathon. He'll be wearing his bright orange shirt that says "I'm running because of an organ donor" on the front and has his transplant date on the back: June 17, 2016. 

For the rest of his life, he says he will be a living, breathing, running testimony, encouraging others to be a donor.

"You can change so many lives by being an organ donor. I'm just one story. I went from an operating table to doing the marathon in about 14 months," said Nugent. 

Steve says his experience taught him the importance of encouraging others. During his darkest hour, when the disease's pain and itching were unbearable, he said this to his wife: "Something's got to stop. I can't do this anymore.This has got to stop. What I was asking her was to give me you permission to leave."

"We've always been positive people. And we had been having that conversation. But, I said 'Steve, just give me two more weeks and I won't ask you anymore.' I just had a feeling that in two weeks time, something good was going to happen. Good for us. Horrific for somebody else," said Diane.

"Tens days of that two weeks, is when I received my transplant. The fact that we had that moment made it so that I could hang on," said Steve. 

But Diane wasn't the only one asking him to hang on. When he went to have lunch with his brother to say goodbye (which happened to be the same day he got the call) his brother said to him, "Hey, you need to hang on like you use to do when you were young and you ran marathons." 

Steve focused on those words, even though he was weak and struggling to stay conscious. When he came home from the lunch date, his phone was ringing. He was so weak and out of it, that he had missed several calls. It was his transplant coordinator calling with the news of a liver for him.

The Nugents have three grown children they raised in Vienna. Steve grew up in McLean with seven siblings and Diane grew up in Falls Church. Their friends and family are large in Northern Virginia. Encouragement and good thoughts came from all over. Former baseball players Steve had coached, random diners at the Vienna Inn. 

"It might be a touch on the shoulder, a 'hey' or just eye contact...Every single thing that everybody did, made it for me to get to the next moment," explained Nugent. 

His next big moment will be this Sunday. Running the Marine Corps Marathon.

The Nugents are hoping to meet their donor someday. They don't know the person at this point, but they think the person liked bright colors. Because now, Steve likes bright colors. 

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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