Pitie Amisi arrived as a refugee in the United States in December 2014 ready to start a new life. A native of the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, Amisi escaped to Tanzania as a boy and grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp where he lived for a decade — separated from his family.
Then just weeks after he arrived in snowy Concord, New Hampshire completely alone, he learned he would die without a new liver.
“In my culture, where I come from, I had never heard of such things,” said Amisi, now 27.
After episodes of vomiting and yellowing of the eyes, Amisi ended up at Concord Hospital and was referred to Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts. He was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a degenerative condition where bile accumulates in the liver, causing irreparable damage to the organ.
To be placed on the transplant list and eventually receive a scarce donor organ, Amisi needed a strong support system to provide the ongoing care needed for long-term success.
“Most people who come to us in need of a transplant have strong support from family or friends who can provide round-the-clock care leading up to and after the transplant,” said Amir Qamar, MD, medical director of Lahey Hospital & Medical Center’s liver transplant program. “Pitie’s situation was dire, not only because of his medical condition, but also because he was alone.”
In New Hampshire, local churches put the word out about Amisi’s situation. As his condition deteriorated, a group of strangers in Concord learned of his plight and banded together to try to save him.
“No one knew for sure how long he would need care, or if a new liver would ever become available,” said Becky Field, a photographer who would become part of the community team that cared for Amisi. “No one really knew this young man.”
The multi-professional, multi-cultural team of volunteers included Field; a retired social worker; two family physicians; refugee resettlement staff; and members of the local Congolese community. Amisi moved into the home of one member, while others pitched in to help him gain weight to prepare him for a possible transplant.
They learned to cook traditional Congolese dishes and scoured local grocery stores for the ingredients in his favorite comfort foods. They kept track of his many medications; helped keep his spirits up; took turns driving him to his weekly appointments; and cared for him around the clock.
With the help of this non-traditional support network, Amisi became eligible to receive his lifesaving transplant.
“I don’t think Lahey had ever encountered a group like this before, but they were very accommodating,” said Field.
Soon, his condition began to improve slightly. Then, in late spring of 2015, came the good news.
“On June 7, I received a call. There is a liver. Come,” Amisi said.
Amisi’s intense care continued as he recovered from the transplant, and today he is thriving. On Aug. 13, he celebrated his 27th birthday with his first-ever birthday party. Weeks later, his sister, her husband and their six children were resettled in the same community as Amisi. He is hoping his mother can soon join them. Amisi is now planning to return to community college and pursue a degree in international relations so he can help others in similar situations.
“His view of life — joy, acceptance and appreciation for every day — has enriched my perspective, as well as that of others around him,” said Field. “Just as I thought when I first met him, I continue to think this is a young man with great potential, a young man that our world needs.”