Kelli and Scottie Chunn appreciate every day following Scottie’s liver transplant surgery a year ago today (Oct. 9).
Kelli and Scottie Chunn appreciate every day following Scottie’s liver transplant surgery a year ago today (Oct. 9).

October 9 is a special day for Scottie Chunn and his wife Kelli.

A year ago, Chunn at age 52 was near death when he received a liver transplant in Birmingham. Today, he has his health back and is enjoying life, doing the things he like to do – cooking barbecue.

Chunn is famous for his barbecuing skills and has won many contests over the years. He makes his own sauce and rubes. He has placed in the top 10 of the famous Memphis In May barbecue contest and has been on the stage. His family and many friends hope he continues to do so for years to come.

Today, October 9, Chunn is celebrating his first year since receiving his new liver.

“When you receive an organ transplant, you start celebrating two birthdays,” Chunn said. “You celebrate the day you were born, and you celebrate the day you got your liver.”

All of a sudden

Chunn is lifelong resident of Neshoba County, having graduated from Neshoba Central in 1984. He owned an electrical service business and was a state contractor. Everything was fine until he started feeling bad last July. He went to the doctor, was placed on medicine and went home. But the next day, he was feeling worse.  

“It happened so suddenly,” said Kelli, who is a nurse practitioner. “He became septic. We saw his doctor one day. The next day, I got a very low blood pressure. I called the ambulance. That was last year, July 4th,” she said.

To this day, they aren’t really sure what caused his illness. But it was bad and got worse.

Chunn was near death when he was rushed to Meridian and placed in ICU at Jeff Anderson Regional Medical Center. The doctors told Kelli her husband probably wouldn’t live through the night.

“The doctor said if you are a woman of faith, you need to get on your knees,” Kelli recalled. “Even the next week, they were telling me to put him in a room and provide comfort measures. I told them he’s 52. We are not doing comfort measures.”

Still, Scottie was a sick man. He had kidney failure and liver failure. His blood pressure remained very low and he was losing a lot of blood. They were pumping blood and medicine in him to keep him alive.

After two or three weeks in ICU, things began to turnaround for everything but his liver. He was deemed well enough to come home. But not for long.

There were several trips to the hospital over the following weeks. He was not getting better.

“We ended up at UAB (University of Alabama Birmingham), thank the Lord,” Kelli said. “With the help of our local representatives, Rep.  Scott Bounds and Sen. Jennifer Branning, we got him approved for a liver transplant.

“Jennifer and her office did a lot. They called Medicaid. They called UAB. They really helped us to get him on the list to receive a liver.”

A long way to go

Getting on the list to be eligible for a liver transplant is a big step. Still, there was a lot more to it.

“A liver transplant is a $2 million surgery,” Kelli said. “Being self-employed, he didn’t have insurance. He had Medicaid.”

Chunn did have an insurance policy that would reimburse him for the bills over time, but UAB wouldn’t accept that. Finally, he was approved by Medicaid.

There is a liver transplant program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the state wanted him to go there. But Kelli declined. Scottie had days to live.

“By that time, he had been evaluated at UAB and he was so sick, he didn’t have time to go through the process at UMC,” Kelli said. “

Once all the details were worked out, Chunn was placed on the list to receive a new liver on the Friday before October 9. He received the new liver Tuesday night. That was an interesting story.

Even though he was on the list, UAB was full at that time and could not accept him as a patient, so Chunn stayed at Anderson. He went in Friday. Finally there was a bed opening Saturday night and he was transferred.

 “He was so sick that they put him on the top of the list,” Kelli said. “It makes you feel bad because we will be sitting over at their office and some people have been on the list for three years.”

Monday, around 11 a.m., the call came that they had accepted a liver that matched Chunn.

“They said it might be tonight or tomorrow,” Kelli said. “It was from a young man in Georgia.”

The transplant surgery was done overnight. It took five or six hours.

“Once he was transplanted, he started feeling better,” Kelli said. “When I got back there the next morning, it was close to 11 a.m. The nurse was working hard. She was still giving him blood and platelets. He was still on the venerator. She said he is doing so good.”  

Even then, Kelli could tell the jaundice was clearing up.

“Later that evening, they were able to get him off the venerator,” Kelli said. “In 24 hours, he was feeling better. He woke up and said, ‘I feel like I’m 18.’”

He was still very weak and had to use a walker for a while. “But I felt so good,” Scottie said. “It was almost like a new life. Everything seemed bright and clean.”

Scottie stayed in the hospital for a few months. And he made some decisions.

The Chunns said they will forever appreciate the prayers,help and blood donations. There were several local blood drives.

“Mississippi Blood Services took donations from all over,” Kelli said. “There was a big drive in North Mississippi for some of our barbecue friends. They have a blood drive down at Walmart, and so many came to that, they had to turn people away.”

Scottie decided to make a career change. “When I started cooking barbecue and do the contests in 2010, it was a hobby,” Chunn said. “But after the surgery, I decided I wanted to do things I enjoy.”

Enjoy every day

Today, Chunn is still recovering his strength, He was back up and about in May. He and Kelli have started having his barbecue sauces and rubes commercially bottled as a home business.

In July, he became the pit master of Marty’s Rock and Country Café in downtown Philadelphia, which re-opened in September. Now he is going to work at 2:30 a.m. in the morning to prepare the meat for that day’s customers.

“I am a morning person and going in that early is no problem, what so ever,” Chunn said. “By the time most people get up, I have already had a half a day of work. When I went and stayed with my granddaddy on the farm, we would get up early like that. We came in for breakfast and it was midday.”

 Scottie sees his liver doctor every six months. He gets monthly blood tests and takes a small amount of medicine.

Chunn said his outlook on life now is to enjoy every day, one at a time. “The things I worried about before the surgery, I don’t worry about them anymore,” Chunn said. “I don’t sweat the small stuff.”

In addition to Marty’s, Chunn will continue to bottle his barbecue sauce and work with his catering business.