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A Childhood Lesson Comes to Life: Paying It Forward

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As the nurse brought Karen Thompson into the operating room, she could hear the music of Rascal Flatts, her favorite band, playing in the room. It was then she knew she was in the right place, with the right doctor, and that there was going to be a happy ending to her story.

Karen Thompson supports liver research to help other liver cancer patients.


In 2011, Karen, of Springdale, Arkansas, was diagnosed with a softball-sized cancerous tumor attached to her liver— a very rare condition for a healthy middleaged woman. “I just thought my acid-reflux was getting worse, so I was floored when my physician diagnosed me with liver cancer,” Karen says.

Karen admits she thought she was going to die. During the next few days after her diagnosis, she even visited her bank and attorney to make important arrangements.

Turning Darkness Into Light

Her next destination was an appointment with an oncologist in Arkansas. However, he told Karen he couldn’t help because the tumor was so large that she would need a liver transplant. This was not the news Karen expected. “I simply fell back on the table and started to cry,” she recalls. “My thoughts went from dying soon from cancer to dying later while waiting for a transplant.”

Karen’s family rallied at her side. Her sister, Tami, asked the oncologist where he would take his wife if she had liver cancer. At the top of his list was Barnes-Jewish Hospital. More specifically, the oncologist recommended William Chapman, MD, a liver surgeon at Barnes-Jewish, because of his reputation for being one of the best doctors in the country to perform liver transplants.

Karen’s outlook changed with her first meeting with Dr. Chapman. “From the minute I walked through the door of the hospital, a sense of peace and comfort came over me,” she says. “Dr. Chapman said he only performs a transplant if the liver is diseased, which mine was not. It was a relief knowing I wouldn’t need a transplant.”

Although Karen’s tumor was very large, Dr. Chapman was confident it could be removed surgically. “After seeing him, the light at the end of the doomsday tunnel was getting brighter,” Karen recalls.

Karen’s other experiences at Barnes-Jewish Hospital further nurtured her hope. She says she was amazed by the exceptional care provided by hospital staff members during her surgery stay. “Every person I encountered, from the first nurse who took my blood pressure to the person who cleaned my room, treated me with kindness. It was as if I was the only person they had to take care of. That is exactly what patients need.”

In 2014, Karen celebrated her 50th birthday—and her third year cancer-free. With a renewed appreciation for life, she spends as much time as possible exploring the rivers of Arkansas in her kayak. “As a type-A personality who works hard, being on the water is how I de-stress,” Karen says.

Karen returns to St. Louis for an appointment with Dr. Chapman every six months. “Even though I could have a CT scan in Arkansas, it’s very reassuring that the person who saw me through this ordeal is still there for me.” Karen says. “There is something so special about Barnes-Jewish Hospital—the staff and doctors aren’t afraid to get close with the patients and reassure them that they will be okay.”

Family and Friends Leave a Legacy

A year after her surgery, Karen received a mailing from The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital, which made her reflect upon her experience. “A wonderful surgeon and his team saved my life and I will be forever grateful for his skills and to everyone who helped me,” Karen says. “How do you begin to pay that back?”

She was determined to find a way. Karen credits her parents, Gene and Georgia, for instilling her with a sense of “paying it forward” from a very young age. “My brothers and sister and I were raised to help others.”

Karen discovered that she could support Dr. Chapman’s research to help him find new ways to treat, and one day cure, patients with liver cancer. “I immediately spoke with my parents about my plans and, without a moment of hesitation, my mom asked, ‘What can we do to help?’”

Their eagerness to help others with liver cancer prompted the Thompsons to establish the Liver Fund through The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital in 2012. Karen is grateful her family made the gifts together to support Dr. Chapman’s research. Her father passed away earlier this year and continues to be an important part of this legacy.

Karen’s friends, siblings, and other patients also have contributed to the Liver Fund. For the future of all patients who may face liver cancer, Karen hopes others will continue to support the Liver Fund, too.

“It doesn’t matter how large or small, every donation helps,” she says.

To make a gift to support Dr. Chapman’s research through the Liver Fund at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital, make a gift online or call 314-286-0600.


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