For middle school students in Sand Springs waiting for their principal to return, Louise Pond has a simple message: “Get to work.”
Pond doesn't remember a lot about what happened during the past few weeks, but she does know she wants the attention and focus away from her and back on her students' education.
“I want the kids to work,” Pond said. “They have tests. They have jobs to do. It's almost time for basketball season — let's get that under way, and wrestling season. And let's get them on the road to testing.”
Pond, the principal at Clyde Boyd Middle School in Sand Springs, has spent the past few weeks at OU Medical Center, where, at one point, she was hours from death.
Pond needed a liver transplant after she developed a type of acute liver failure, fulminant hepatic failure, that develops suddenly and often without a known cause.
Doctors find out the cause in only about 60 percent of cases such as Pond's, said Dr. Harlan Wright, medical director of the liver transplant program at the Oklahoma Transplant Center at OU Medical Center.
“More often than not, what we have is the damage that's left, and we can never really identify what it is that damaged the liver,” Wright said.
The liver is the largest organ inside the human body. It is also one of the most important, changing food into energy and cleaning alcohol and poisons from the blood.
Pond started feeling sick the last week in July. She was at teacher evaluation training when her eyes and skin turned yellow.
On Aug. 17, she was taken from a Tulsa hospital to OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City after it was determined she needed a liver transplant.
Doctors soon placed Pond on the national liver transplant donor list. She was a “status one” patient, meaning any liver in the Texas and Oklahoma region would go to her.
But Pond's condition was rapidly deteriorating. Her liver was failing, and her kidneys were shutting down. She had to be put on a breathing machine and was placed on medications to keep her blood pressure up.
“If not for those medications, her heart would stop,” said Dr. Anthony Sebastian, the founding director and chief of the Oklahoma Transplant Center at OU Medical Center.
But good news soon came — a liver was available in San Antonio. Early Sunday, a medical team took a plane to a San Antonio hospital to pick up the liver.
Sebastian said the medical team had to make a difficult decision, though.
“As they were procuring the organ, Mrs. Pond's condition took a turn for the worse,” he said.
“Every hour, her pressure was going down. We were going up and up and up on her medications to keep her alive, and we had to decide — do we really bring that liver from San Antonio to here?”
If Pond wasn't alive when they got back, that meant they might have to fly the liver back to San Antonio. And by that time, the liver would have spent more than six hours on ice.
Some transplant centers won't take a liver older than that. That could mean that no one would get the liver.
“We were really dealing with two lives in a way — Mrs. Pond's life and somebody else in San Antonio — and we had to make that call,” Sebastian said.
The Oklahoma medical team decided they wanted to try to save Pond.
After the surgery, there was no guarantee Pond would wake up. She was still in a coma under anesthesia. Her blood pressure was under control, but she was still in kidney and respiratory failure.
“But we knew we had changed which direction she was going,” Sebastian said. “She was headed toward death. Now we knew if we had put that liver in time, we were convinced her other organs would recover — and that's what happened.”
Liver transplantation has one of the best prognoses. But before the transplant, a liver failure patient has a 90 percent chance of dying.
“That's the miracle of transplantation that we see,” Sebastian said. “We were all really, really thrilled.”
When Pond woke up from the surgery two days later, one of her first question was, “Have I been fired from my job?”
Pond's boss described her as an unbelievable warrior and a respected leader.
Pond has worked for the Sand Springs School District more than 30 years. A Sand Springs native, she graduated from Charles Page High School in 1973.
Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow said she is a steady person who gives clear messages to her students. They know what to expect, and they respect her.
“She's always urging those kids to be at their best,” Snow said. “I think it's that kind of will and that kind of attitude that's certainly helping her as she recovers from an unbelievable health crisis.
“Recovery comes when you have strength and attitude and expectation, and I think she brings that to that school site at a time when those youngsters are full of energy, and she tries to channel that into positive and productive energy and has high expectations of them.”