An Italian woman who arrived in California on vacation two months ago is leaving San Diego for home Saturday with a new liver, thanks to UCSD Medical Center.
Monica Rossi was stricken with a critical case of Hepatitis B, and wound up comatose for almost two weeks.
"And one day I woke up and (her husband) told me, 'You have a new liver'," Rossi recalled during a news conference Friday in Hillcrest. "And I said, 'Why? Mine works, mine works very well. Why do I have a new liver'?"
Rossi, her husband and their three young children had visited San Francisco, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park before her liver failed in Los Angeles, on the eve of a Disneyland outing.
Friends in San Diego helped get her admitted to UCSD Medical Center, which quickly arranged for a liver donation and transplant.
"If a liver had not been available within a 12-hour period for Monica,” said UCSD transplant surgeon Dr. Alan Hemming, "she would not be here with us today, and be able to share her life with her children."
The operation involved using a catheterization procedure pioneered by a UCSD School of Medicine graduate, to cool Rossi's blood to 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 degrees Fahrenheit) to reduce the brain swelling that followed her liver failure.
"So when they took the (intubation) tube out," recounted her husband, Michail Perackis, "they asked her 'Please tell us your name'. And she said, 'Monica'. And then the second thing she told us was (she wanted) a kiss from me ... so it was very moving."
Rossi said she was in and out of a fog of "weird" dreams from the time she was stricken until a week to ten days after her transplant surgery in late August.
"It's like something that happened to another person and not to me," said Rossi, " because I have no idea of reality. Mine is my dreams, this is for real -- not what happened, exactly."
Perackis -- a business consultant in the family's hometown of Bergamo, northeast of Milan -- faced a different reality involving emergency planning, child-care and travel arrangements for two sons and a daughter under the age of nine who had to return to Italy, and financing Rossi's medical care.
Through fundraising drives here and at home, and arrangements with UCSD Health Care Systems and Italian national health coverage, Perackis said the costs will be affordable.
"Now, I can say it was a great experience, a human experience," is how he summarizes the ordeal. "In the beginning I didn't have the time to think about that, so I'm very happy it happened like this. And now it's almost over."
With her kids with relatives and back in school in Italy, Rossi stayed at the hospital's Bannister Family House, receiving eight visits from Perackis.
They've become strong advocates for the cause of liver donations -- and vaccinations against Hepatitis B.
"It's a huge issue that I'd like to get out," said Hemming. "For people to donate, and see what effect you can have on people's lives."
Doctors say that with medications, Rossi should have a normal lifespan.
For her part, Rossi expressed gratitude for the surgical team's empathy as well as professional skills.
"I feel they really cared for me," she said. "Not just because it's their work."