UNO instructor cares for husband after liver transplant during pandemic


Karissa Madrigal

UNO instructor Amy Freshman with her husband Bob. On April 5, Bob received a liver transplant that saved his life. Photo courtesy of Amy Freshman

Like most University of Nebraska at Omaha faculty, Amy Freshman, scrambled to convert her courses to remote learning due to COVID-19. As co-owner of two locations of Phoenix Food & Spirits, the pandemic forced the closing of in-house dining and shuttered her events venue in Elkhorn.

But few people knew she also cared for her husband Bob, who suffered end-stage liver disease and awaited a life-saving transplant.

The couple received a call from the United Network Organ Sharing (UNOS) at 9:21 a.m. on April 5 that they found an organ donor match. Freshman said they had 30 minutes to arrive at the University of Nebraska Medical Center for the transplant operation. By 7:30 p.m., Bob Freshman was in the ICU recovering.

Since 2017, they have dealt with Bob’s diagnosis of NASH, a non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. In the past three years, his condition continued to deteriorate and left him with one option—a liver transplant.

This time proved tumultuous for Freshman.

“There’s a lot of challenges we faced while waiting for the call. We were talking to insurance companies every week, we could not travel due to the fear of missing the call,” said Freshman. “There were times we were second in line for a transplant.”

By February of 2020, Freshman became her husband’s primary caregiver. She continued to teach communications studies classes like public speaking in the School of Communication, advising students and oversee her businesses. 

Considered a “gem” among students and faculty for her passion for teaching, Freshman found strength in her faith and support from family and friends.

As her husband became more critically ill, Freshman said she wanted to give him as much independence and dignity that she could. However, in the weeks prior to the transplant, Bob remained on a feeding tube and the couples had end-of-life discussions.

Freshman said “life should always have a theme” and theirs was “Steel Magnolia” because they would get through this together. Freshman learned to be strong for her husband and continue to be a teacher and business owner. 

But, most importantly, Freshman said she wasn’t ready to do life without her husband. 

Freshman recalled sitting in the hospital surgical waiting room alone due to COVID-19 restrictions. She asked her family and friends to say a prayer to the donor and the donor’s family. 

“This was someone’s last selfless gift of life,” Freshman said. “The donor ‘simply checked the box’ and saved so many others due to that decision.”

An anonymous organ donor saved Bob’s life by “simply checking the box.” Photo courtesy of Amy Freshman.

Bob Freshman faces a long recovery and a lifetime of taking anti-rejection drugs. COVID-19 makes it even more critical for him to stay at home. In an April 19 Facebook post, Amy Freshman wrote: ”Only Bobby would go through a liver transplant during a pandemic.”

Her husband’ s donor will always remain a hero in Freshman’s heart, “organ donation saves so many lives.”

To pay tribute to April’s Donate Life Month, Freshman wrote in an April 30 Facebook post:

“Today, we remember the anonymous unsung hero that on April 5, 2020 gave Bob Freshman the gift of life as their last selfless act here on Earth. If you have not already made the decision, take 5 minutes and register to be a donor. Without the donor’s selfless gift…life with Bob would not be possible.”

This story was written to commemorate Donate Life month. The UNO Public Relation Student Society of America (PRSSA) “Let Life Bloom” event was originally going to be hosted in-person on April 8, but was held digitally due to COVID-19. The organization partnered with Live On Nebraska, to send participants seed packets of forget-me-not flowers to pay respects to organ donors and represent how life continues through organ transplants. The social media campaign gathered over 100 orders of flower packets and accompanying stickers that were designed by UNO senior, Rachel Brader. “The PRSSA team wants college students and community members to become stronger advocates and build the state’s organ donor registry,” said PRSSA advisor Karen Weber.