At ten years old, Greg Canteen had the usual childhood dreams: a lawyer, a doctor, a drummer, a massage therapist, an NBA athlete. Now, at 14, he’s waiting for a liver donation.
Greg was in fifth grade when he woke up with a severe pain in his stomach during Christmas break. He had been playing with his wrestling action figures “The Rock” and “Superhero Spiderman” before bed and was suddenly awakened by a pain to his stomach that Greg likens to a gunshot. “Or how I think someone experiences it when a bullet passes through and they feel air coming through the hole,” he says, recalling the winter night when his life changed forever. Alarmed, his grandmother and mother hurried him to Georgetown Hospital—as it was called then—and they were later sent on to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
After countless tests, hospital trips and anxious hours, Greg was diagnosed with sclerosing cholangitis, a disease that blocks the bile ducts and leads to major liver damage. Although medical professionals have been able to manage the symptoms as Greg has progressed from middle school to high school, the only known cure for advanced primary sclerosing cholangitis is a liver transplant.
Greg, a musician and member of Greater Bible Way Church explains it this way: “I have an enlarged spleen and liver and I’m working on donations so I can have a liver transplant.” He also said that he hopes “to get a liver transplant very soon, to graduate high school and go to college.” Grateful for both the get-well cards from his friends and for his musical abilities, he plays both piano and drums at various churches, helping his uncle with cleaning tasks occasionally. With a lowered immunity status, Greg is unable to attend his scheduled classes at Georgetown High School, so he meets with his homebound teacher at the library where internet and computers are available. On his weaker days, he has to cancel, then work doubly hard to make up the incoming assignments.
On a larger scale, Greg is only one of 113,000 Americans waiting for an organ transplant. While National Donor Day was celebrated nationwide on February 14, Donate Life America continues to heighten awareness for the widespread demand for organs, eyes, tissue, blood, platelets and marrow. Over 51% of the population has signed up for the organ donor program, according to organdonor.gov, yet only three in 1,000 deaths occur in conditions that are conducive to organ harvesting. The website further reports over 36,000 transplants were performed in 2018, but the waiting increases by one prospective recipient every ten minutes.
These recipients, including Greg, are prioritized by age, capacity to thrive, and overall condition. Currently, Greg’s MELD (Model of End-Stage Liver Disease) score has pushed him higher on the list, which could mean a new liver in 2020, depending on matching donor availability.
When asked how she has coped over the past four years, Greg’s mother Bernadette Canteen reflects, “I have only word to sum it up,” and then sighs deeply before answering. “Prayer.” She remains grateful to her family, especially her mother Patricia Gardner, and sisters Lynair and Daphne, also to Bible Way Church and St. Mary’s Catholic Church, to Food Lion who has consistently given her a flexible schedule and work that “helps keep my mind off everything.”
Greg’s younger brother, seven-year-old Tristan is a second-grader at McDonald Elementary in Mr. Johnson’s class. His favorite subjects are math and reading, but he likes science and writing too. Tristan understands the seriousness of his brother’s condition and says, “I’m praying he gets a liver so he can hurry up and ride a four-wheeler.” .
Tristan, like his mother, is hopeful of a new home as well. Along with their stepfather, Brian Franklin, the family has been living in a two-bedroom apartment in Maryville that is not only uncomfortably small, but dangerously close to the water and the natural dangers that accompany it. Aside from the predictable cold winter weather in January, the family had to deal with flood damage caused from a water pipe that burst inside a closet.
Looking optimistically ahead, Ms. Canteen noted, “Gregory needs room just in case they have to bring medical equipment.”
Having lost her previous house following the death of her first husband, (Greg’s father, Clinton Canteen), she knows the joy of having a safe backyard and is trying to afford a mobile home or more appropriate family housing soon.
For now, the Canteen family takes life one day, one hospital trip, one challenge at a time. “We are a very respectful people. We love doing things as a family. We are sports fans too,” says Greg, picking up his pencil to solve his algebra problems.