COATESVILLE Rick Ortega doesn't hide the fact that he's made some mistakes in his 63 years. He abused alcohol, and in May, 25 years after going to rehab, he received his liver-cancer diagnosis.
He's always known he had to deal with the consequences of his choices and didn't make excuses, a lesson he passed on to his two children, his son Matt said.
"That's how he led his life," Matt Ortega, 39, said, "and I respect him for that."
The lessons he learned from his father, he said, made the choice to donate part of his liver to him easy. Matt Ortega, head football coach at Coatesville Area High School, said he told his father, who worried about his son's going under the knife: "You would do this for anybody in our family. That's how you raised me, so you can't say 'no' to this."
The transplant surgeries went as planned Tuesday at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and father and son are doing well, Matt Ortega said. The pair had an emotional reunion Wednesday. "The first thing I said was, 'Dad, I'm good,' " said the younger Ortega, whose liver will regenerate over the next few months.
He is scheduled to be released from the hospital during the weekend, but his father won't be home in time for Christmas, which the family celebrates at the patriarch's house every year. So the family will visit the hospital.
"There were so many hurdles we had to go over to get to this point," Matt Ortega said. Doctors postponed the surgery several times to make sure the procedures would be safe for both. At one point, doctors said the son might not be able to donate because he had too much iron in his liver. Ortega said he got the call Dec. 10 that doctors were going ahead with the surgeries this week.
Matt Ortega said his father was on a deceased-donor list, but the fastest option was using a living donor. He said not many people he told about the surgery knew that someone could donate part of a liver to save someone's life. "I'm a biology major, and I didn't even know it," he said. Ortega, whom family members described as a modest person, said he is glad his story can educate others about donating.
Ortega said he expects to be back at the high school by the end of January. "I feel good," he said. "A little bit of pain here and there, but it's well worth it."