Mosley's long journey back to health

March 24, 2010
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On a sunny Saturday morning, you are likely to see John B. Mosley and his wife, Kathy, walking the six miles from their home in downtown Grand Rapids to East Grand Rapids and back.

Four years ago, Mosley’s life detoured down a different path, this one leading much farther: to the brink of death and back.

Mosley, Spectrum Health’s senior vice president for strategy and business development, received a liver and kidney transplant at Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis in 2006, the failing organs a result of the ulcerative colitis he had battled since age 21.

“I’m thankful for every day. Every day is a great day, regardless of what’s going on,” said Mosley, who led Spectrum Health’s successful bid for state permission to establish a heart transplant program in Grand Rapids.

On the job, Mosley’s duties include strategic planning and oversight of marketing and communications, physician recruitment, and applications for Michigan Department of Community Health certificates of need, which are required for a variety of expenditures, from CT scans to new buildings.

In February, the Michigan Department of Community Health granted a Certificate of Need to Spectrum Health’s proposal to create a heart and lung transplant program at the Meijer Heart Center. The proposal was to be submitted in March to Spectrum Health board members for their final nod.

“John has had a significant impact on the growth and development of new business at Spectrum Health,” Spectrum Health President & CEO Richard C. Breon said.

“He was intricately involved in the development of the Spectrum Health Regional Network and continues to strengthen our ties and relationships with hospitals throughout West Michigan. John also has guided the growth of our Healthier Communities department, which strives to improve access to care for the underserved. He’s been an active participant in our community and continues to be an integral part of the Spectrum Health leadership team.”

Currently, Spectrum Health conducts bone marrow and kidney transplants for children only. The system is also seeking state permission to establish a bone marrow transplant program for adults. Saint Mary’s Health Care has the most active adult kidney transplant program in the state.

Mosley knows what it’s like when life totters on a phone call, the kindness of strangers and total trust in those who love you. Going to work every day to create a program with the potential to offer that hope to other seriously ill people is one of Mosley’s satisfactions.

“I’m very much a proponent of this,” Mosley said. “When you’ve been through it, and you have to go out of town, and you have to find a way to live, and you have to uproot yourself and parts of your family, it’s a real difficult situation. It’s quite a trauma even if you’re close to home, but the farther you have to go, the more difficult it is, the more expensive it is.

“Just to think that people can get this in West Michigan where they can at least be more comfortable than they would be in another foreign environment — I think it really gives you an enthusiasm. This program really makes sense. I can personally say that having transplant programs close to home really will make a difference.”

Mosley, 63, was born in Mobile, Ala., and grew up in Indianapolis and Rushville, Ind., the eldest of three sons of a working mother, Mary Frances, now deceased. His father was rarely around.

“My mom believed in education,” he said. “All of us have a college education. We should have been drug dealers, based on where we came from.” The family lived in a poor, rough section of Indianapolis until Mosley’s great-grandmother died and they moved into her Rushville home.

Mosley’s mother spent long hours at her factory job, leaving young John in charge. “We had no supervision,” he recalled. “I think about it now, it seems normal, but it’s really not when you’re in fourth grade and you’ve got a second-grader and a kindergartener, and you’re the one in charge.”

Mosley said the move was pivotal. “Rushville would be like Sparta, maybe — a small community,” he said. “I got a lot of breaks. I got an opportunity to get an education, and an opportunity to succeed.”

A basketball player in high school, Mosley took an athletic scholarship to play at nearby Earlham College. He then earned an MBA from the University of Rochester in New York. He held several jobs in finance and accounting, moving from Pricewaterhouse to Eli Lilly to Blue Cross to American Monitor Corp., where he was CFO. Then he returned to Blue Cross, now Wellpoint, as director of utilization management — “which was the total shift in my career, which got to be in the health care field,” he said.

He became president of a small HMO before signing on as vice president of business development at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Evansville, Ind. Spectrum President and CEO Rick Breon was top executive there at the time. Breon, who moved to Grand Rapids in 2000, recruited Mosley to join him at Spectrum Health in 2001.

“The opportunity was pretty phenomenal,” Mosley said. “Spectrum Health had some great infrastructure. It had some great people that had a really exceedingly important, wonderful chance to make a difference in health care. We’ve got a million square feet of infrastructure in place, or it will be — we’ve got another year to go to finish it all up.

“The other thing is having a strategy to be the best, being a destination for health and being a driver of economic growth,” he added. “In West Michigan, that has been something that’s been real appealing, and I think that Spectrum Health has been very successful in making that occur.”

While Mosley’s career was blooming, ulcerative colitis and its complications were taking their toll on his health. In the 1980s, he had been diagnosed with colon cancer, a complication of ulcerative colitis, and part of his colon was removed. More complications forced Mosley into further colon surgery in 2003. Over the next few years, primary sclerosing cholangitis, another of colitis’s dangers, occurred as his liver’s bile ducts backed up. That sent Mosley into liver failure. Then, his kidneys, exhausted from trying to fulfill the failing liver’s duties, started to fail. By January 2006, Mosley was on dialysis three times per week.

Over the course of about a year, Mosley and his wife, Kathy, practice manager at West Michigan Cardiothoracic Surgeons, traveled to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. They were hopeful he would receive a transplant there.

“It was, ‘Come back for more tests, come back for more tests.’ And in reality, they weren’t really going to do anything with him. Because of his previous surgeries and how bad he was, they wouldn’t help him,” Kathy Mosley recalled. “By the time that we realized we needed to make a change, we were getting that feeling that they weren’t going to do anything, but they wouldn’t tell us that. We finally did make the change, and it was just by accident that we found out about IU through our son-in-law.”

At a conference for his job in health care information technology, son-in-law Scott Van Dyke met a Clarian Health transplant surgeon and pled Mosley’s case. The surgeon agreed to see him, and suddenly Mosley was on a transplant list. By then, he was extremely sick. Rated by the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease, his score was “off the charts,” he said.

“We watched him get progressively more green and yellow,” said Mary Kay VanDriel, president of Value Health Partners who, at the time, worked for Mosley. “I think he probably had a month or two left to live. He’d keep coming to work to stay focused, but we knew he was really sick.”

“I have to give a lot of credit here at Spectrum Health,” Mosley said. “They allowed me to come in; they kept me going. The fact of the matter is, I was getting close to being pretty useless. I didn’t have the stamina. I didn’t have the capability. I didn’t have the attention span. I was dying, the fact of the matter was.”

Thirty-two days after meeting with the surgeon in Indiana, at 7 p.m. on St. Valentine’s Day, the phone rang in the Mosleys’ Plaza Towers condominium: There was a liver for Mosley in Indianapolis.

“We got the call and I started jumping up and down and saying, ‘I get a chance, I get a chance.’ It was amazing.”

VanDriel said Mosley had made arrangements with five different pilots to fly out of the Sparta Airport. As neighbors in downtown Grand Rapids, she and her husband, Bob, agreed to be ready to drive the Mosleys to Sparta at a moment’s notice. With a window of about six hours to get to Indianapolis, Mosley tried to reach the pilots, but none of the five returned his phone calls. “Then we thought about for a minute. … It’s Valentine’s night, they are probably all out with their wives for dinner, and they can’t drink and fly. So nobody called him back,” VanDriel said.

They decided to contact Dr. Ralph Rogers, who runs Spectrum Health’s air ambulance service, AeroMed. “We were kind of desperate,” VanDriel said. “Ralph Rogers said ... ‘If I have to take you by myself, we’ll get you there.’”

It was nearly dawn by the time the operation began to install the donated liver and kidney. “(The surgery) didn’t go too well, either, because it took them 13 hours to get it done, which is normally a three- or four-hour operation. They used over 110 units of blood, which is unheard of. And they came out twice and told Kathy I wasn’t going to make it. They hit me twice with the paddle.”

The Mayo Clinic doctors were right: Mosley’s previous surgeries made him a high-risk transplant patient. “With scar tissue, you can’t go fast, because you’ll cut something you don’t want to cut, so it’s very tedious,” he said.

Still, he survived. “I attribute a lot of that to some divine intervention, but also to the fact that I’d always worked out and my heart didn’t stop.”

Complications dogged Mosley throughout recovery: four additional surgeries to fix a leaky small intestine and a sudden arterial bleed; a medication error detected by Kathy; hallucinations in reaction to anesthesia and pain medicines; an open wound that required a wound vacuum.

Mosley credits Clarian Health transplant chief Dr. A. Joseph Tector and others at the Indianapolis facility for seeing him through the ordeal. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Clarian and Tector often utilize livers that have been rejected at other transplant centers, but usually for patients who are not critically ill.

“One question the doctor asked me about when we did the transplant was, ‘Do you want to live?’ I can imagine the responses he could get from different people. No question what my response was.”

Mosley said he has little memory of his two-month hospital ordeal. His wife rented an apartment nearby, and other family members took turns watching over him. He was away from work for about a year in total.

“I give just an unbelievable amount of credit to Kathy and sticking by me through a very difficult time,” he said.

His wife shrugged it off. “You see what needs to be done and you do it,” she said. “I never had any thought about it.”

A second marriage for both, the Mosleys have been married for 15 years, after meeting at St. Mary’s in Evansville. Between them, they have four children and nine grandchildren.

Today, Mosley said he feels better than he has in years. He works out nearly every day, doing aerobics at home or visiting a gym. And, when the weather is good, there are those Saturday morning marathon walks to East Grand Rapids, Eastown, or Fulton Street Farmers Market.

Mosley is devoted to maintaining his health and is a frequent visitor at the YMCA downtown. He believes he has a moral obligation to the donor, whose family he has thanked in a handwritten letter but about whom he knows nothing.

“The key to organ donation is doing your part — maintaining your physical, mental and emotional well-being,” he wrote in a post-transplant missive. “By all logical presumptions, I shouldn’t be here. Life is full of unexpected miracles, and I am unbelievably thankful for mine.”  HQ

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