Vic Clementi was in and out of a coma for weeks just prior to his liver and kidney transplant operations on June 4. Doctors told his wife, Kim, they could get a donor in two days to save his life.
But when Vic awoke briefly, he spoke to her.
"The first thing he told me was he didn't think he could make it two more days," she said. "He knew inside himself he couldn't last that long."
Kim and their daughter, Ginny, braced for the worst.
"I didn't think we would have enough time," she said. "He was basically within 24 hours of death when he got his transplant."
After months at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, the Clementis drove home to Carson City on July 26.
"I'm pretty happy to be back," Clementi said from his bed Wednesday. "It's been a long haul -- I'm happy to be alive."
His wife said the elevation is hard on transplant patients.
"We had to come up slow in elevation. We stopped for six hours in Auburn and rested. Vic laid down and slept for a while."
Now Clementi is dealing with his new reality.
"I have three kidneys now instead of two," he said. "It's supposed to be less detrimental to leave the old ones in. I guess they just disconnect the diseased ones and hook up the new ones."
Clemente dropped from 226 pounds when he was diagnosed to 138 pounds at the time of his transplant. Now he's back around 160.
"When I was younger, I was a very active guy -- a mountain climber and a surfer. Now I'm real happy when I walk around the block."
He said he probably contracted hepatitis C in his mid-20s. and it took 30 years for the disease to show up.
"The second they put (the new liver) in. it became infected," he said. "They're hoping it's 30 years again before I have any problems with the hepatitis C. By then I'll be in my 80s."
He said he's working to prevent the rejection of his new organs.
"Right now, I'm on immunosuppressives, which are suppressing my immune system because it wants to kick out the new organs which are foreign to my body."
He said he was never in pain, but was extraordinarily weak.
"When I weighed 138 pounds I couldn't lift my arm off the bed. I was literally skin and bone."
Kim Clementi said support groups -- in Carson and at the hospital -- have made a huge difference.
"Vic came too close to death, and having to sit there and watch him die, just come closer and closer to death everyday is why you have to go to these support groups," she said. "They're the only things that hold you up."
She gave thanks for the family that donated the organs.
"Every day, I try to think of what to say in this letter to this family that gave this gift of life to my husband, and it just seems like 'thank you' isn't enough," she said.
But just because the transplant is over doesn't mean life is going back to normal for the Clementis.
"I'm not even sure what 'normal' means for us anymore," said Kim.
Post-transplant life is not any easier, she said.
"It's not easier -- it's just different. I can't say that it's any less stress. It's just like a different set of things to worry about."
Ginny turned 16 on July 21 in the Bay area. The only gift she wanted was to see "The Phantom of the Opera" in San Francisco.
"I said, 'We can't. We just can't afford it,'" said her mom.
But the hospital administration and social workers purchased tickets to the show for Ginny's birthday.
Kim Clementi said the California Pacific Medical Center staff was caring, describing how a nurse from an area where her husband had stayed came to check on him after he was moved.
"Just doing stuff like that," she said. "They just cared. Not once in this whole thing was there one person in that hospital that was ever in a bad mood. We didn't have a single crabby nurse."
The Clementis' homecoming has been another in a long line of hardships. They arrived at their home off West College Parkway to an empty house with no flooring. The carpet had been ripped up and belongings stored by a hazardous-materials crew after Clementi vomited tainted blood from a ruptured esophagus in February.
Financially, it's not a pretty picture either.
"It's one heck of a financial nut to crack," said Clementi. "I've got insurance, but we're still going to be in the hole hundreds of thousands of dollars. But we'll keep chipping away at it."
He said he'll go back to work when he feels fit enough.
"Doctors recommend between six months and a year off," he said. "Yesterday (Tuesday) was two months for me."
YOU CAN HELP
Send offers of help to:
285 E. Applegate Way
Carson City, NV 89706
The Victor Joseph Clementi Benefit Fund has been set up at Bank of America: Account No. 004966550823