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Making the Most of a Second Chance

Liver Transplant Recipient Grateful to Jefferson for New Life

One morning in early 2019, Bob Broitzman visited the chapel of a tiny Langhorne, Pennsylvania, church and knelt to pray. He didn’t notice the gentleman who came in after him and sat quietly in the back. As Bob slowly walked toward the door, the gentleman stopped him and invited him to sit. He shared with Bob some of the difficulties he had experienced in life, then handed him a prayer card, saying “This helped me, and I believe it will help you, too.” On one side of the small card was a blessing, on the other was a drawing of Jesus knocking on a large wooden door.

“I was on the other side of that door,” Bob says.

The words on the card gave Bob hope: “I come with My Mercy, with My desire to forgive and heal you…” He still carries that card in his pocket today, and believes those words helped to save him. “I never saw that man again, but I believe he was my guardian angel.”

A recovering alcoholic, Bob went to the chapel every morning to pray for strength and health. He was weak and sickly, and in dire need of a liver transplant. Although he attended Alcoholics Anonymous regularly and valued his sobriety, the years of heavy drinking had taken their toll; cirrhosis was destroying his liver, and he didn’t have much time left. He had come to Philadelphia from his Naples, Florida, home to wait for an organ to become available.

Just a few weeks after the encounter in the chapel, Bob received a new liver—and a second chance at life—at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

“It was quite a journey,” says Maureen Broitzman, Bob’s wife of 28 years. It began in 2017 when Maureen noticed Bob’s health was failing. By early 2018 the couple’s neighbor, Joanie Moogan-Zuckerman, a retired nurse anesthetist who had spent her career at Jefferson, noticed Bob’s condition too. Her years in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology with Jonathan Fenkel, MD, director of the Jefferson Hepatitis C Center and associate medical director of the Liver Transplant Program, gave her a keen insight into Bob’s yellowing eyes and skin.

At their neighbor’s recommendation, and after doing some research, Bob and Maureen determined Jefferson was where they needed to be. Jefferson surgeons performed the first liver transplant in Delaware Valley in 1984, and have completed more than 1,500 liver transplants since. The patient transplant and graft survival rates surpass national and regional standards established by both the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) and the Organ Procurement Transplant Network, and Jefferson’s five out of five rating from SRTR for one-year liver patient survival transplantation outcomes is among the top 10 percent in the nation.

“Joanie contacted Dr. Fenkel and he agreed to evaluate me,” says Bob, 67. At their first appointment in early October, Dr. Fenkel explained the situation was urgent—Bob needed to get on the transplant list immediately, and he needed to stay in Philadelphia until a liver could be found.

Joanie and her husband, Nathan Zuckerman, MD, are neighbors of the Broitzmans in Florida, and have a second home in Langhorne. They immediately offered their house—about 30 minutes away from Center City—and the use of their cars to Bob and Maureen.

“Joanie and Nate not only connected us with Dr. Fenkel and Jefferson Hospital, they opened up their Langhorne home to us,” Maureen says. “They’re extraordinary people in a million ways, and we will be grateful to them for the rest of our lives.”

The Broitzmans spent the winter in Philadelphia, and as the months wore on, Bob grew sicker. On March 12, he was admitted to the hospital—his organs were shutting down, and time was running out. Miraculously, three days later, the call they had been waiting for came: A liver was available.

“The doctor said I would be getting a partial—that is, I would get 75 percent of the donor liver and a seven-month-old baby would be getting the other 25 percent,” he recalls. The liver has the unique ability to regenerate; after transplantation, a partial liver will grow and remodel to form a complete organ. It has become routine to use one donated liver to save two lives, usually an adult and a child.

On March 15, Bob was rolled into the operating room. After 10 hours of surgery, he was on his way to “start a new journey—a new life.”

He gives much of the credit for his survival to the Zuckermans, and the doctors and staff at Jefferson, but says he was also brought through by his deep faith in God, and the love of his wife, whom he calls his “inspiration and forever soulmate.”

Bob says he lives in “gratitude and humility for this incredible second chance,” and is dedicated to giving back. He and his wife have made a generous donation to Dr. Fenkel’s research so that other people can be helped by the discoveries his team makes. Dr. Fenkel is principal investigator in several clinical trials aimed at developing the next generation of antiviral medications for hepatitis C, including options for those whose disease has caused cirrhosis and liver failure.

Bob still begins every day with a visit to the chapel to pray, and attends AA meetings to share his story and let people know “there is hope; you are not alone.”

“Then there’s this,” he says, pulling copies of the prayer card from his pocket. He takes them wherever he goes to hand to people he meets who might need a guardian angel—just like the guardian angel who changed his life in a chapel not so long ago.