Hope for a liver transplant dashed after mad dash to the mainland

Paul Munafo, an Island contractor who is closely associated with the Vineyard Playhouse, got the call he was waiting for in the early morning hours of Friday, May 23.

He is a candidate for a life-saving liver transplant, and doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) called with the news that a donor organ was available, but he needed to get to Boston in three hours.

That started a frantic round of calls. MedFlight, the helicopter ambulance service was grounded because of the weather. Angel Flight, a group of volunteer pilots who fly on medical missions, couldn’t arrange a flight fast enough.

With time ticking away, Mr. Munafo’s wife, MJ, called Tisbury harbormaster Jay Wilbur.

Mr. Wilbur scrambled to Owen Park where he was able to shove off the dock about 1:30 am in the harbormaster’s fire and patrol vessel with the couple aboard. They arrived in East Falmouth Harbor about 15 minutes later.

“It was a little lumpy,” Mr. Wilbur said of the sea conditions. “Not quite calm, just lumpy enough that I couldn’t go full throttle.”

An ambulance, along with a State Police escort, took the couple to Massachusetts General Hospital.

But there was heartbreaking news at the MGH: the liver was not suitable for transplant.

“Talk about a punch in the stomach,” said Mr. Munafo. “We made it to Boston from our house in well under two hours. That was a miracle. All these resources, and all the kindness of everyone. I felt so awful.”

Mr. Munafo said he hopes his experience highlights the need for organ donations. “There are just not enough organs. They don’t do you any good when you’re dead, but they certainly can help someone who is alive.”

Mr. Munafo remains at the top of the list for a liver transplant, so he is hoping for another call soon, and Mr. Wilbur said he will be ready, if needed. “It’s a community service, something I’m proud to be able to do,” Mr. Wilbur said.