Jeremiah Trussell would do anything for his dad. He has the scar to prove it.
When Jeremiah, now 22 and a medic in the U.S. Army, learned that his dad needed a liver transplant, he bravely volunteered, donating a part of his own vital organ to his father.
“As soon as I knew there was something I could do to save my dad’s life,” Jeremiah says, “I decided I had to do my part.
Jeremiah became an Eagle Scout as a member of Troop 4 of El Paso, Texas, part of the Yucca Council. Looking back, Jeremiah believes his time in Scouting prepared him for that decisive moment — and the eight-hour surgery and weeks of recovery that followed.
“Scouting promotes helping others, even if it is at a cost to you,” Jeremiah says. “And I knew the small price was well worth saving my dad’s life.”
Learning the diagnosis
The diagnosis for Robert Trussell, an associate professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, was nonalcoholic cirrhosis.
There is no cure, and liver transplantation is the only known treatment.
When Jeremiah learned of his dad’s prognosis, he was understandably upset.
“But I didn’t know the logistics behind liver transplants and how urgently he needed one,” Jeremiah says. “I also didn’t know how long the liver transplant waiting list would take.”
Sadly, the national demand for healthy organs far outpaces the supply. And when Robert was hospitalized with a gastric bleed, Jeremiah realized the seriousness of his dad’s condition.
“We needed to do the transplant as soon as possible or he could have another gastric bleed and die,” Jeremiah says.
Making the call
Jeremiah knew his body was healthy. And he knew his Type O-negative blood made him a universal donor. So he volunteered for testing to learn whether his liver was a match.
The answer was yes. That would mean Jeremiah’s dad could bypass the waiting list for a liver from a deceased donor and receive a live-donor transplant.
“I knew my dad would never ask me to donate,” Jeremiah says. “So I called him and told him I wanted to start the process.”
Robert’s reaction was mixed, he says.
“I felt that I didn’t want him to go through that — I was protective of him,” Robert says. “I knew it would be difficult, and I didn’t want him to suffer. On the other hand, I knew that this was the only way I would survive. So there was a certain amount of relief that I was going to survive.”
Jeremiah received the OK from his superiors in the Army to take time away for testing, the surgery and recovery.
“I’m very thankful that my chain of command was fully supportive,” Jeremiah says.
The transplant surgery was scheduled for December at the University Hospital in San Antonio.
Going under the knife
On the day of the surgery, Jeremiah and his dad joked around, trying to keep the mood light.
“I was so glad that he was there with me and that I didn’t have to do it alone,” Robert says.
Jeremiah was under for eight hours, and his dad was out for 16. The surgeons removed about 60% of the right lobe of Jeremiah’s liver. Over the course of a year, it should regenerate to 100%.
Robert’s liver, too, should regenerate to full size in about a year.
Jeremiah spent a week in the hospital after his surgery. By the next week, he was back to moving around, shopping with his mom and eating at restaurants.
Robert’s recovery took longer. But three weeks after the operation, he tells Bryan On Scouting that he’s feeling “so much better.”
“In fact, I am feeling better than I have in years,” he says.
Jeremiah hopes his story encourages others to learn about organ donation — especially live liver donations.
“Donating an organ is a small price to pay for saving the life of another human being,” he says. “Anyone can volunteer to be an organ donor — it doesn’t even have to be a member of your family.”
Jeremiah joined Troop 4 after hearing about the fun his friends were having on 50-mile canoeing and backpacking trips.
“My twin brother and I had to join in on this fun,” Jeremiah says.
When they joined, Troop 4 had just returned from a 50-mile canoe trip in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota.
“I was sorry to have missed out on that trip,” Jeremiah says.
He quickly made up for lost time. Over the course of his Scouting journey, Jeremiah experienced 12 different 50-mile canoeing or backpacking trips.
He backpacked at Haleakala National Park in Hawaii, hiked the Continental Divide in Colorado, traversed the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico and canoed down the James River in Virginia.
“Through these trips, I made several lifelong friends, learned how to deal with hardships, how to be an effective member of a team, how to lead and organize trips, and above all I had a great time,” Jeremiah says.
Robert noticed something else happen. He saw his son develop grit, perseverance and a dedication to accomplish whatever he sets out to do.
“He sets his mind on a goal and sets a strategy to achieve it,” Robert says. “Boy Scouts helped reinforce this perseverance. Jeremiah set his mind on his Eagle, and he did it. He set his mind on being a transplant donor, and he did it.”
Sam Snoddy was Jeremiah’s Scoutmaster. He helped mentor Jeremiah and his twin brother who became the 148th and 149th Eagle Scouts during Snoddy’s tenure as Scoutmaster.
“It is extremely gratifying to see such integrity and dignity,” Snoddy says of Jeremiah’s selfless organ donation. “It gives me hope for our great nation.”
“I am so proud of my son, Jeremiah,” Robert adds. “He is brave. He is strong. He is my hero.”