Texoma's 'Lazarus': Man shares story of being brought back to life during liver transplant

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TRENTON, Tex. (KXII) - A Texoma man is thankful on this Easter Sunday. Nurses called him Lazarus, after they say he died, came back to life, then lived 18 hours without a liver before he was given a new one.

The diagnosis came out of nowhere for healthy Trenton paramedic Joe Fowler.

It was late 2000 when the signs began to show up.

"I was 31. I was very fatigued," he said. "Every afternoon I was ready to take a nap or go to sleep."

Fowler went to a doctor shortly after. He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C.

"I saw a liver specialist. He said my numbers were so bad, I would need a transplant. That devastated me. I thought, people don't live through that."

On April 9, 2001, he got the news that he made the liver transplant list. But just hours later, he started to have issues.

"By 4 a.m., I collapsed on the floor. A nurse found me in a puddle of blood. My liver failed."

Fowler was rushed to the ICU in a Dallas hospital. He was dead for nearly 45 minutes as doctors performed CPR.

"They came out to tell my family they had done everything they could do," Fowler said.

But doctors and nurses kept going.

"As a paramedic, we have our guidelines and rules, we know when to quit. They didn't quit."

Surgeons said his only option was to remove his liver and put him on a special machine.

He lived without a liver for 18 hours.

"At the time, 15 hours was the longest anyone had gone on that machine in the hospital."

Doctors finally found him a liver, from a 38-year-old man who had died in a car wreck.

"He's my hero," Fowler said. "I would love to know some information about him or even have a picture of him."

Fowler battled for months in a medically induced coma, then through 5 more surgeries followed by rehab and physical therapy.

He said he often questioned why God kept him alive.

He said he gets his answer when he looks at his adopted son, now 12, and wife.

"I think I'm still here for a purpose, and to promote organ donation."

He still has that damaged, donated liver-- 18 years later-- on this Easter Sunday.

"Knowing someone had to die to give me the liver, that really hit home for me," he said. "Two people have died for me. Jesus went to his grave, and then this gentleman selflessly gave me his liver after he died."

April is organ donation awareness month.

Fowler wants to remind people donating organs and saving countless lives is as simple as signing up the next time you renew your driver's license.