There is an unmistakable joy in Deb Smith's voice as she recounts her husband's dramatic recovery from a liver transplant in May.
Noel Smith, 56, is back home in Sandy now, "a poster adult," his wife says, for having left University of Utah Hospital five days after such a major medical procedure. Two years of desperate fears, multiple organ malfunctions and dwindling health are gradually giving way to the gentler rhythms of suburban family life.
"You keep having hope and that's what changes things," Deb Smith said.
Having fought so hard against the life-threatening effects of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, a scarring liver inflammation caused by fatty buildup, the prospect of facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt does not seem insurmountable.
Friends, family and fellow church members will hold a large yard sale for the Smiths on Saturday, July 14, to ease their burden. The sale will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the family home, 2837 E. Swiss Oaks Drive (about 8000 South) in Sandy.
"It looks like I've got furniture, electronics, clothing. I see sporting equipment, toys," Deb said as she reviewed the donated bounty. "It's overwhelming. Everyone has just been absolutely wonderful."
After a recent morning of doctor visits and lab tests that now punctuate their lives, Noel Smith, an automotive-parts store worker for 38 years, fell silent for a moment, overcome at the outpouring on his family's behalf.
"People come out of the woodwork to help," he finally said of the yard sale and other assistance. "People I've never met. I've got neighbors that moved in the last month saying, 'What have we got to do tohelp you?' "
Smith first felt a lump under his rib cage in 2010. His health failed precipitously, compounding grief for the family of four as they coped with the unimaginable loss of a 19-year-old son on Christmas morning eight years before.
Toxins left unfiltered by Noel's failing liver triggered a series of hospitalizations for problems with his brain, kidneys and stomach, until doctors finally determined a liver transplant was critical. Deb Smith dreamed the night of May 22, 2012, that the hospital had called to say a donated organ was available.
The actual call came at 2:30 the next morning.
The family is still tallying all the bills and even with medical insurance, they are massive. The average U.S. liver transplant costs about $575,000, according to the National Foundation for Transplants, a Memphis, Tenn.-based organization that is helping the Smiths raise funds. Noel will need follow-up care and daily anti-rejection medications for the rest of his life.
That's OK, said Deb. "The health comes first," she said, "then you kind of deal with what's ahead of you."
The Smiths hope they can someday meet and thank those who donated the liver Noel received.
"We are a very humble family due to this transplant and very loving toward the other family," Deb said. "They lost a child as well."
In addition to attending a July 14 yard sale at 2837 E. Swiss Oaks Drive in Sandy from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., those interested in helping with the costs of Noel Smith's liver transplantation can make a donation on his behalf at the National Foundation for Transplants website, www.transplants.org.