'Thank goodness I didn’t give up': Middletown veteran gets new liver after 6 false starts

·4 min read

Ron Walsh was exhausted all the time. He often was incoherent, his speech slurring. His hand-eye coordination slipped.

At 65 years of age, the longtime Middletown resident was dying of a liver cancer he believes he contracted from his service as a U.S. Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: “From the 1950s through the 1980s, people living or working at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, were potentially exposed to drinking water contaminated with industrial solvents, benzene and other chemicals.”

Walsh was put on the liver transplant list in 2019. Six times, he received a call alerting him to a potential match at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. All six turned out to be false alarms.

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Ron Walsh of Middletown got a second chance at life with a liver transplant.
Ron Walsh of Middletown got a second chance at life with a liver transplant.

“On three occasions I had to go down to the hospital, on two occasions I got prepared for surgery, and one time I was literally in the staging room all set to be wheeled in,” Walsh said. “I could see the operating room. Then they called it off; the liver didn’t live up to their standards.”

Physically and psychologically, Walsh was at the end of his rope.

“I was ready to throw it in and say, ‘Let me go,’” he said. “Thank goodness I didn’t give up.”

The seventh time proved to be the charm. Walsh received his new liver in late August 2021. His donor was a man from the Philadelphia area, a few years younger than him. The organ was a 97% match.

“Every day when I wake up I thank two people,” he said. “I thank God for another day, and I thank my donor, whoever he may be. I honor his liver every day — I eat healthy, I don’t touch any alcohol. Before I was a little judgmental — now I live a judgment-free life.”

He turned 66 on Tuesday.

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JeanMarie Cadorette and her husband Ron Walsh, who recently received a liver transplant.
JeanMarie Cadorette and her husband Ron Walsh, who recently received a liver transplant.

“We’re very appreciative,” said his wife, JeanMarie Cadorette. “He’s got so much energy now. Sometimes I joke with him and say, ‘You’re exhausting me.’”

It took Walsh several months to recover from the transplant. Within a few weeks, he achieved the milestone of walking one block from his home. With the help of therapy, he progressed from there.

At the same time, Cadorette was waging her own battle. In mid-August, between Walsh’s last false alarm and his transplant surgery, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It was the most stressful time of my entire life,” Walsh said. “She was caring for me while I’m worried about her.”

Cadorette underwent surgery in October and completed radiation in late December. Fortunately she did not require chemotherapy.

“It was definitely a double whammy but the timing worked out,” Cadorette said. “I had enough time (before surgery) to help him recuperate.”

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Ron Walsh at the Rocky statue in Philadelphia. He recently received a liver transplant at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.
Ron Walsh at the Rocky statue in Philadelphia. He recently received a liver transplant at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

As Walsh continues to progress, he has some loose ends to tie up with the VA. His liver cancer is on the list of recognized illnesses stemming from Camp Lejeune’s contaminated drinking water. Those who served there for at least 30 days from 1953 to 1987 are eligible for compensation. Walsh, who was stationed there from 1975-78, has filed a claim and is awaiting an answer.

“I served my country and I served it well and I am proud of it,” Walsh said. “If I could serve again, I would. In defense of the military and the government, we didn’t know about all these contaminants back then. But it does bother me because there are so many people, thousands of Marines, Army and Navy reservists who served at Camp Lejeune in that period, and most of them don’t even know they can get free medicines and possibly even compensation if they’ve gotten sick.”

Fortunately for Ron Walsh, help arrived just in time in the form of a new liver.

“We want to encourage people to be organ donors,” Cadorette said. “They save a lot of lives. It’s something we never really thought about in the past, but when you’re going through it, you’re very grateful for people who gave the gift of life.”

For more information about organ and tissue donation in New Jersey, visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org.

Jerry Carino is community columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at jcarino@gannettnj.com.

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Middletown Marine veteran from Camp Lejeune with cancer gets new liver