A Lifetime of Pain Transformed by Transplantation

A journey through pain leads to a life-saving intestinal transplant—and ultimately to lessons in healing and faith

Anthony Neal describes himself as a “veteran” of pain. His war wounds are surgical scars; they tell the story of years of bodily trauma brought on by chronic intestinal disease. Now 46 years old, Anthony says, “I was literally born with pain.”  He was premature and underwent emergency surgery at two weeks of age to untwist his intestines. Issues around his intestines would plague him for years.

Anthony’s doting mother closely watched over him. She made sure he ate well and often. He was a “chunky” child, so when he would go to the doctor with complaints of stinging belly pain, he was always told he was fine and sent home—undiagnosed.

Living with Chronic Pain

Anthony learned to cope by developing a high tolerance for pain. “My need to fit in and feel like everyone else enabled me to shut the pain out,” he says. “I even played football and basketball in school.”

In high school, Anthony was diagnosed with ulcers and colitis, and given heavy medicines to manage the symptoms. He also changed his diet and lifestyle and was able to cope with the periodic bouts of pain on his own. As a young adult, he got a job with the postal service and became a father. However, he always suspected the underlying problem related to his health was not resolved. His way of coping with this uncertainty was to block it out and avoid going to the doctor.  

In 2006, however, Anthony got very sick. He started to lose weight rapidly, his skin became discolored, and his blood pressure would fall so low he had fainting spells. His former tactics if distracting himself from the pain were of no use. He was hospitalized and finally given a definitive diagnosis of Crohn’s disease (a chronic condition causing inflammation in the lining of the digestive tract, which leads to severe abdominal pain and malnutrition).

Surgeries were performed to fix his intestines, but they failed, leaving him even worse off. In fact, Anthony was near death following one procedure that left him in a coma for 30 days. He became so malnourished that he was requiring daily Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN) through a shunt in his chest. It became clear that an intestinal transplant would be required to save Anthony’s life, and he was transferred to Kishore Iyer, MD, and the Mount Sinai Intestinal Transplant team for an evaluation.

Finding the Road to Recovery

By the time he arrived at Mount Sinai, Anthony was beaten down mentally and physically. Due to the complications and scarring resulting from his prior surgeries, he would need to undergo many more surgeries to “stretch” his skin with tissue expanders so he could be safely closed after transplant. After several months of preparations and waiting, the call for a transplant came in November of 2012. The surgery went exceptionally well, and Anthony recovered so quickly he was discharged several months earlier than expected.

Today Anthony says he takes nothing for granted. He is back to enjoying the simple joys of life:  food, exercise, and time with his 9-year-old son Antoine. He is looking forward to returning to work. Anthony is the epitome of a survivor; he has tenacity, grit, and resilience. He is grateful for the “Gift of Life” granted to him by an organ donor and for the exceptional care provided to him by the members of the RMTI team. “The team is wonderful,” he says. “They are so kind and caring. I felt I was safe and in competent hands. We inspired each other.”

While he was once a “veteran” of pain, who nearly died of malnutrition and infection, Anthony now appears a picture of health (the photo accompanying this story was taken approximately 1 ½ years after his transplant). The RMTI team wishes for Anthony a long life free of pain and many years of good health.