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Chris Mahoney: Kids Call Him 'Big Bird,' and That's Okay by Him

As the San Carlos educator awaits a call for a new liver, he's opening a lot of eyes to the need for organ donors. And he's not afraid to find the humor in it all.

Chris Mahoney has had to concede a few things these days but he's not ready to give up. On the contrary, with the help and support of his community, Mahoney remains optimistic his situation will improve soon.

"It just floors me," said Mahoney from the picnic bench in the courtyard of "Charter."

"Sometimes you just get choked up because of the people who have stepped forward to help with finances, meals, everything," he added.

Mahoney, the director of the San Carlos Charter Learning Center, was diagnosed with Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a chronic liver disease, in 2003.

The 42-year-old educator needs a liver transplant or he faces an extremely painful death, which would leave his wife and three-year-old son, who asks every morning "feeling better daddy?" and rests his head in Mahoney's lap, without financial support.

He still shows up to work every day because, he says, it is more helpful being around the 340 students, teachers, administrators and parents than lying around the house waiting for a transplant that may never come.

"I can't water ski any more or go sky diving," Mahoney said. "But I'm able to keep doing the thing I love."

His students call him "Bid Bird" because his jaundiced skin has turned a yellowish color. It's a nickname he embraces and relishes.

"I tend to deal with things through humor," Mahoney said. "The kids know that and they still make fun of me. I love that."

Mahoney usually takes a break in the middle of the school day for a nap and he's usually so exhausted when he gets home, he takes an early dinner, plops on the couch and sleeps through the night.

Mahoney has touched so many lives over the years, however, that no one else has given up on him either. Eighth-grader Emma Ligtenberg, for example, has taken on the task of organizing a "Walk-A-Thon" in his behalf, hoping to raise $60,000.

Mahoney knew nothing about it and continually shakes his head over the outpouring of support he's received.

"So many people have come forward, people I don't even know," Mahoney said. "It's overwhelming and touching. Teachers have offered to donate their times and services. Parents have taken to organizing themselves with offers of taking care of the laundry, the cooking, even babysitting duties."

"I've always known San Carlos as a giving community, but now I'm on the other side of it," he added.

He's still not comfortable talking about his situation ("It seems weird," he says) but also knows this isn't just about him. It's also about raising awareness for organ transplants.

And it's also a race against the clock says Mahoney.

"Without a new liver, doctors say I have about 6-8 months," he says matter-of-factly.

His best bet is getting a live donor, and many have volunteered only to be turned away after a series of tests. Whatever happens, it will be expensive and beyond the means of his health insurance.

That's why a golf tournament has already been held for his benefit, and why a garage sale netted over $5,500.

Lightenberg's efforts have been the biggest yet. She went about soliciting goods and services for the event, to be held Dec. 8 at Burton Park. She organized everything herself, including adults for help.

She also had the idea of selling yellow T-shirts for the event, but some adults thought it too insensitive and the color was changed to green. Mahoney thought yellow was perfect.

PSC is a particularly evil disease because high-powered pain killers such as morphine can't be used to ease the discomfort. Mahoney is in constant pain. He can't be out in the sun without protection and even resting causes its own discomfort because of the stiffness it causes.

The longer he endures the pain, the better his chances. It's a long waiting list, especially in California, and odds of a cadaver liver are slim.

A live donor faces major surgery himself. The donor was be compatible to Mahoney in a number of critical areas, including blood type (A or O), age (18-45), and similar build. The donor would face four months of rehabilitation after surgery.

At UCSF, doctors have a 100 percent success rate after one year. It can be done. That outlook, along with a community that has surrounded him with support, comfort and love, keeps Mahoney focused on his day-to-day activities.

Find out how you can help by going to www.ChrisNeedsALiver.com.

To follow Chris's journey, check out his blog  by clicking here.

Stay with Patch for more information on how you can help Chris, including an upcoming story on Emma Lightenberg's Walk-A-Thon on December 8.

[Editor's note: Thank you to Patch associate regional editor Stacie Chan for her help editing this video.]

barryr November 10, 2012 at 11:05 AM
I came upon this artical as I was looking for a obituary on a friend and I am on a liver protocol that is supposed to have great healing results. I am not trying to sell you anything I just thought maybe the Lord had me see the situation your in so I could share this with you.My name is Barry ph#928-710-7180.I'm not a good Typer so its quicker if we talk by phone.

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