The best Wedding gift

Amanda Mulker and her father dance together at her wedding. Photo courtesy of Molly DeMellier. 

It was the perfect match. In more ways than one.

Amanda Mulkern and Nick Johnas met at Castleton in 2010, began dating that November, were engaged October 10, 2015, and one month and one day later learned that Mulkern’s father, Bob, may not live to walk her down the aisle.

“My dad was diagnosed with liver cancer and end stage liver disease,” said Mulkern. “He needed a lifesaving liver transplant or a live-liver donor to survive.”

Because of where he was on the transplant list, a live-liver donor was the best chance for survival. However, Mulkern, her mother, and two brothers proved not to be matches to save her father who began to rapidly decline, but refused to let them cancel the wedding.

“We went through the ups and downs of what was going to happen,” Mulkern said of the blend of wedding planning and hospital visits.

While waiting to move up the transplant list it was decided to begin attacking the cancer and after a year of radiation treatments the tumor shrunk.

“Thankfully that took,” Mulkern said. “But we kind of got to a standstill last fall and my dad just kept getting sicker.”

As the wedding date neared, it became increasingly clear that Mulkern may not share the day with her father.

“I couldn’t imagine getting there without my dad,” she said.

That winter Johnas asked to undergo testing, which included blood work, a physical examination, and detailed imaging of his liver to determine not only if his blood and tissues were compatible but also if he was healthy enough to donate.

It was a perfect match.

Castleton University Alumnus Nick Johnas, right, and his father-in-law, Bob Mulkern, pose with shirts signifying a life-saving liver transplant. Because of Johnas' selfess act, Mulkern was able to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day. Photo courtesy of Molly DeMellier.

Exactly 75 days before the ‘I do’s’ both men went under the knife.

After eight hours on the operating table, 24 hours in the intensive care unit, and four days in general recovery, the former defender for the Spartans left Massachusetts General Hospital with only 40% of his original liver and a 7 and a half inch incision along his abdomen. His soon to be father-in-law followed him six days later with a full life ahead of him.

“They took 60% of Nick’s liver and completely removed my dad’s bad liver,” Mulkern said. “So Nick got the brunt of it initially.”

As Johnas’ body fought to repair itself after the invasive procedure, Mulkern’s dad quickly began to feel rejuvenated with the unhealthy organ removed from his body.

“Within hours of the surgery Bob was doing amazing,” said Johnas. “It was an uphill battle for about a month and a half but to know that everything went that well made it all worth it.”

In that span, both men’s bodies had almost fully regenerated their livers back to normal size and are expected to make a full recovery.

On May 6, 2017 Mulkern walked down the aisle on her father’s arm and said ‘I do’ to their perfect match.

“As much pain as Bob was in, he was so motivated to get to the wedding,” Johnas said. “It wasn’t until seeing him walk her down the aisle that it really set in, everything’s going to be fine.”

This story originally appeared on written by Molly DeMellier, ‘14, assistant director of the Castleton Fund and Donor Relations.

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