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Celebration set for Hewitt recipient of transplant

This Thanksgiving, John Schmitz has a lot to be thankful for. He recently received a lifesaving liver transplant, and friends and family are planning a party to celebrate his homecoming.

Schmitz, 36, was diagnosed with hepatitis 20 years ago, and doctors believe he contracted the disease from working with cattle on his family's farm without wearing gloves. The hepatitis led to many other health problems, including a diagnosis of colitis two years later. In May, he was diagnosed with cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis, which causes inflammation and scarring of the liver's bile ducts. Doctors said a liver transplant was essential to his survival, and he received the transplant Oct. 1.

A liver transplant costs approximately $500,000. Even with health coverage, Schmitz faces significant medical expenses. For the rest of his life, he will need follow-up care and daily anti-rejection medications. The cost of post-transplant medications can range from $2,000 to $5,000 per month, and they are as critical to his survival as the transplant itself.

Schmitz, a husband and father of two young children, is thrilled to be on the road to recovery. His illness left him with very little energy to spend time with his family. He works for a construction business, but his health problems have limited his ability to work, adding to the financial strain.

The Schmitz family also incurred travel expenses related to the transplant, as the surgery took place in Rochester, nearly 250 miles from their home.

To help offset these expenses, Schmitz turned to the National Foundation for Transplants for assistance. NFT is a nonprofit organization that helps patients raise funds to pay for transplant-related expenses.

"We're so thrilled for John and his family," said Claire Prince, NFT fundraising consultant. "He's had to deal with more health battles than most people can imagine, and he's only 36. At NFT, we're dedicated to helping John and his volunteers raise funds so he can fully embrace his new life and focus on resuming a normal lifestyle with his young family."

Volunteers are holding a welcome home fundraiser from 5-9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 26 at Brewski's Restaurant and Bar, 113 Main Ave. E. in Deer Creek. Admission is free, and food and beverages will be available for purchase. Volunteers will be selling cookbooks and candy bars, and additional donations are greatly appreciated.

For more information, contact Brandy at (219) 831-6334 or

To make a tax-deductible gift in honor of Schmitz, please send a contribution to the NFT Minnesota Liver Fund, 5350 Poplar Ave., Suite 430, Memphis, TN 38119. Please be sure to write "in honor of John Schmitz" on the memo line. Secure donations also can be made online at Donors should click on "Patients We Help" to locate Schmitz.