A benefit dinner to help rescue firefighter and teacher Mandy Drake drew hundreds of well-wishers in Waterbury and raised more than $12,000 toward the costs of a liver transplant.
About 525 people attended three seatings of a pasta dinner at the Main Street fire station on June 5, as Drake’s online gofundme.com account topped more than $33,000.
“We have the funds, now we just keep pushing forward for a donor,” fire battalion chief Sally Dillon told the Record.
Drake, a volunteer firefighter and former language arts teacher at Crossett Brook Middle School, learned how to speak again after a stroke two years ago left her partially paralyzed.
Drake, 46, is now awaiting a liver transplant as a prerequisite for a craniotomy to replace the bone flap surgeons removed from her skull in the hours after she was rescued by fellow firefighters.
That day, Dillon and her husband, Gary, the fire chief, broke through a second-story window to rescue their comrade. All are longtime friends and volunteer firefighters in town.
As Drake awaits a liver donor, she remains in medical and professional purgatory: The school has hired a temporary replacement for her; her gear hangs ready to go in the fire station.
The former triathlete exulted in the recent springtime sunshine in a recent interview.
“I walked to the train station and back today, so you don’t take things for granted anymore,” Drake said. “You’re just happy to get out there and walk.”
Drake’s fiancé, Stan Morse, also a firefighter, described the arduous effort to restore her health and quality of life. The couple returned to Waterbury in late April after a lengthy trip to the nonprofit Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where more than 3,300 physicians and researchers continue to innovate in the science of organ transplantation.
Morse was disappointed to learn from doctors that, although he and Drake share an O-positive blood type, his liver would not be a match.
“A deceased donor also has to be her size,” Morse said. “You can’t have a 6-foot-5 donor fitting the cavity where her liver’s coming out.”
Dillon was likewise disappointed to learn her blood type disqualified her from donation, leading to the crowd-funded search.
This year, Drake became one of the first patients from Vermont to visit the Mayo Clinic for a possible organ transplant through a partnership the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. After the operation, she would undergo a craniotomy at the University of Vermont Medical Center.
Doctors say Drake’s prognosis for the craniotomy is 100 percent success, but without a new liver, the threat of infection prevents surgeons from repairing her skull — which in turn prevents a full medical recovery.
Without a functioning liver, Morse said, nothing else in your body works: “Your autoimmune system doesn’t work, you have cramps, you have constant itching, confusion” and other ailments.
Live donor transplantations are now available at only a handful of institutions across the country, including the Mayo Clinic.