Survivor Story: Matt O’Quinn

Life is an obstacle course for this very brave couple. Meet Matt (36) and Lauren O’Quinn from McDonough, GA.

Matt’s journey began in November 2010. Prior to this time, Matt O’Quinn was a healthy 30 year-old with no medical issues. One day, Matt’s wife Lauren noticed the whites of his eyes formed a yellow tint (jaundice). Matt scheduled a visit with his Primary Care Physician.  Routine blood work showed that his bilirubin levels were elevated. His doctors immediately decided to perform an ERCP (Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography) to identify the cause of the jaundice. They found a blockage in his bile duct. Matt was then sent to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, GA to see a general surgeon.

The doctors at Emory performed several tests.  An MRI showed a large mass in his common bile duct and Matt’s pathology report showed evidence of cancer. Matt was diagnosed with the deadliest form of “Stage 4” Cholangiocarcinoma.  Matt and Lauren quickly realized this life altering news and journey would take a village of friends and family support.

What followed were many visits with oncologists and surgeons with no solutions or treatment options offered to Matt. The Emory transplant team informed Matt he would never be a candidate for a liver transplant. He was given a bleak prediction of 4-6 months survival time. It was devastating news but the family remained positive.

With his bilirubin at dangerously elevated levels, 2 biliary drains were inserted into the side of Matt’s abdomen.  Over the next few months, he experienced unexplainable miracles.  Matt had numerous visits to the ER with 2 internal bleeds, infections, high fevers, and numerous ailments that nearly took his life.  In June of 2011, Matt had a repeat MRI that showed the tumor had not grown. As a result, his surgeons agreed to perform surgery.  Matt had a liver resection removing two-thirds of his liver.  After the grueling surgery, Matt underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He suffered many side effects and complications.

In 2012, Matt’s stomach shut down completely due to inflammation, requiring yet another surgery.  With every obstacle he came through like a champ with his family and friends by his side at every step along the way.

In 2013, Matt went an entire year with no medical issues. But in February of 2014, he began to show signs of jaundice so it was back to the hospital again. He immediately had biliary drains inserted to take pressure off of his liver, but the drains were not effective.  Matt remained jaundice and stayed in the hospital for an entire month. Fortunately, Matt had a very determined radiologist that would not give up until they found a way to relieve the pressure on his liver.

The liver transplant team, whom Matt and Lauren had met 3 years earlier, were contacted again to review his very unique case. Matt’s doctors appealed to UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) so that he would qualify for a new liver. The amazing news came to the family on July 17, 2014. Matt was granted an exception by UNOS and placed on the transplant list. The next few months were a waiting game. For the family, it was a time of waiting, patience, and prayer.  There were a couple false alarms when Matt was called to the hospital but the doctors at Emory were waiting on the perfect liver match for Matt. The family’s hope and faith prepared Matt for surgery by keeping him strong.  Five months of waiting ended on December 16, 2014 when Matt finally received the “most important” call of his life. Although the next few days were critical, Matt made everything look incredibly easy.  He came out of surgery talking, smiling, humbled and grateful for the amazing miracle; the gift of a new liver. Matt began to thrive from day 1 of his transplant.  He is now 8 months post-transplant and is getting stronger every single day.  He spends his time outdoors, gardening, playing with his dogs, swimming, exercising, and appreciating the simple joys of life with family and friends.

For Matt and Lauren, their journey which began with a grim diagnosis, has had a remarkably positive outcome. The family firmly believes that Matt survived this horrible disease through faith, prayer, perseverance, and the expertise and support of the many amazing doctors on his team. Now he is motivated to share his story so that he can help others find inspiration and the strength to never give up hope. He wants to let other patients with cholangiocarcinoma know that with every challenge there is an opportunity, and the chance to overcome any obstacle. Matt and Lauren are truly blessed and grateful for the gift of life and look forward as the next chapter in their journey continues.