CARIBOU, Maine — Former Deputy City Clerk Kalen Hill was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer last year. Now her chance of getting a vital liver transplant is on hold until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control.
Earlier this year, doctors at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Massachusetts told her she was near the top of the list for the transplant — the one procedure that could save her life.
“They said [recently] ‘you cannot come down here until this virus is under control because you would die’,” Hill said, adding that there are other people in the same situation right now.
Hill needs a full liver transplant from a deceased organ donor, which must meet several criteria in order for Hill to go through with the procedure. In addition to not having any history of heavy alcohol or drug use, the donor needs to have Hill’s blood type — a rare type O negative.
“I need a whole liver,” she said. “I can’t take a partial one because the cancer has spread and I have cirrhosis on the bottom of my liver.”
Hill said she would rather see a partial liver go to someone it could truly help.
“I would rather a child get it,” she said. “I’ve lived a good 65 years.”
Hill’s regular trips to Boston began in April 2019. She traveled with her brother Clarence Belanger using Angel Flight Northeast — a free air service using volunteer pilots to transport people to the medical help they need when they cannot afford to use commercial means. She and her brother would land in Boston, Hill would endure a myriad of tests, shots and procedures and then head back home.
“I went through so many tests it doesn’t even make sense,” she said with a laugh. “MRI scans, EKG, and they even gave me shots for pneumonia and shingles. They asked when was the last time I’d had any of those diseases and I said ‘Heck if I know.’”
Since she was first diagnosed, Hill’s co-workers and the surrounding community have come together to help her with costs associated with her Boston area hospital visits.
Last year, City Clerk Jayne Farrin and Deputy Treasurer Holli Doody sold baked goods provided by numerous city employees during the “Thursdays on Sweden” summer event. Farrin said all of Hill’s coworkers have helped her through this situation in some way, by providing baked goods, donating items for raffle or by purchasing an emerald green ribbon to show support for Hill’s battle with liver cancer.
“I’m going to get emotional now,” said Hill, “but I want to thank everyone very much, all of the city of Caribou, all of the city departments. They’ve all helped me through this.”
Hill would often be greeted with the generosity of a community member, wherever she went.
“I would come to the grocery store and they’d say ‘Don’t leave; I’ll meet you outside,’ and they’d donate something. I’d go to The Cubby and they’d ask me if I could use some furniture. I mean, people were just incredible,” she said.
While Hill grew up in north Caribou, an area now known as Connor Township, she spent more than three decades in Denver, Colorado, with her husband Ernest Hill, an Air Force veteran who had been stationed at Loring Air Force Base. The two had met in Van Buren in 1974, and later decided to move to Arizona.
“We were both sick of the cold weather,” Hill said.
The couple stopped in Denver on their way to Arizona and ended up staying for 31 years.
“We ended up staying a little longer than we planned and we eventually had to find jobs. So we never did make it to Arizona,” she said.
Her husband only flew back to The County with Hill once from Colorado, and it was to move back permanently.
“In 2006 when I was about to fly here, he told me to get a ticket for a second person. He goes ‘I’m going with you.’ I should’ve known it right then,” she said.
Ernest Hill also had liver cancer and had been hiding it from her for several years, his widow said. He died in January 2012.
And while she’s immensely thankful for all the donations and help from the community, at this point Hill is asking anyone who wants to help to pray for her.
“Pray,” she said. “Pray that I get a liver in time.”