Justin Shupert, 30, of Bellefontaine, Ohio, always knew he wanted to be a firefighter. What he didn’t expect was to be able to not only be a firefighter but also serve his country in the U.S. Navy. Justin Shupert in his navy uniform receiving an awardFor 10 years, Justin served as a mechanic in the submarine force. He was also a husband and the father of three young children.

But five years ago, a routine physical exam turned Justin’s world upside down. Justin had been feeling sick and complained of constant itching. Testing would reveal a devastating diagnosis of ulcerative colitis and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a chronic disease of the bile duct that eventually leads to serious liver damage. Suddenly, his body, which had been able to endure countless years in the U.S. Navy as well as an active lifestyle, started to fight against him.

Getting the call that changed his life

Due to his medical diagnosis, Justin was medically discharged from the military. He was transitioned to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to begin receiving care.

“At Ohio State, I was able to receive more robust testing that had never been available to me before, allowing for a better understanding of my diagnosis,” says Justin.
“At the time, I was working 12-hour night shifts and couldn’t sleep because of all the itching. I was miserable. However, it was a relief to have a medical staff that truly cared for my well-being,” he adds.

 

After testing was completed, Justin was told the difficult news that he would need a liver transplant to survive.

After a short month and a half, Justin got the call that all patients in need of an organ hope for — there was a liver available for him.

“I just dropped to my knees,” he says. “I was so scared to leave my family, but so thankful for the opportunity.”

On Dec. 6, 2022, Justin came to Ohio State for his liver transplant. While he was scared of the unknown, he knew that to be the husband, father and son he wanted to be, he needed to be strong.

“I’ll never forget waking up in ICU … I felt like a new person,” he says. “My levels dropped like a rock, my itching was gone and for the first time in a long time, I felt alive.”

Five years ago, a routine physical exam turned Justin Shupert's world upside down when he received a devastating diagnosis that would mean he needed a liver transplant to survive.

A turn in the wrong direction

Justin Shupert in sitting in a hospital chairThe relief Justin experienced, however, was short lived.

“After a great couple of weeks, I started experiencing a sharp pain,” he says. “After consulting my transplant team, I was treated for organ rejection.”

Justin had joined the 2% of transplant recipients who experience organ failure after transplantation. He was put back on the waitlist. It was a devastating blow.

“Without the transplant team’s extensive testing, this may not have been found, and I wouldn’t be standing here today. And for that, I’m forever grateful,” he says.

Second liver transplant renews hope

Only a few months later, on Nov. 16, 2023, Justin was matched to a new liver and transplanted a second time. “The Ohio State team stuck by me day in and day out. This team truly became a part of my family. The transplant unit on the 10th floor was my second home.”

Justin Shupert giving a speech to people at the pinwheel planning ceremony
Justin Shupert spoke to the crowd gathered at Ohio State’s annual pinwheel planting ceremony, which honors every organ transplant completed at Ohio State.

Now, several months post-transplant, Justin says he’s finally starting to feel like himself again. Years of sickness and persistent itching that permeated every moment of his life have gone away.

“I’m able to be the father and husband that my family deserves. I think my wife is happy because now I can start working on her mile-long honey-do list.”

Grateful to his team, and his donors

Justin Shupert sitting on a tractor holding his childrenJustin feels grateful to the entire team at the Ohio State Comprehensive Transplant Center, from nurses to PCAs to doctors, he got to know many over his time at Ohio State.

Dr. Ashley Limkemann was honest and transparent with me while still showing compassion and answering my 1 million questions. Dr. Lindsay Sobotka was also open, honest and thorough with my care plan,” he says.

Justin says he feels thankful for the people who made the selfless decision to be an organ donor. “They gave me a second and third chance to live,” he says.

In a message shared to almost 3,000 people at the 16th Annual Buckeye Pinwheel Planting and Transplant Reunion at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center on April 7, 2024, Justin reminded those waiting for a transplant that he’s living proof of three simple words: “Don’t lose hope.”

For some patients needing a liver transplant, receiving a portion of a liver from a living donor is an ideal option.

Explore living liver donation

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