Classic BMW’s Yuki Tsutsumi Gives a Friend a Gift – His Liver; Race Team Crew Member Helps Save a Life with Needed Surgery
Three weeks after the liver transplant, both men doing well in Texas
ANNA, Tex. – For Classic BMW/Fast Track Racing’s Yuki Tsutsumi, his decision was an easy one. He wanted to give one of his best friends the greatest gift possible – the gift of life.
Tsutsumi, a crew member of the Classic BMW/Fast Track Racing sports car team, knew his close friend, Stephen Mensch, was suffering from PSC (primary sclerosing cholangitis), a long-term liver disease that would be fatal without a liver transplant.
“I wanted to know more about Stephen’s liver disease and began asking questions,” said Tsutsumi, a crew chief on the Classic BMW/Fast Track Racing Touring Car team in the Pirelli World Challenge. “I found out that first step for a liver transplant was the same blood type. Then I discovered our blood types matched, so I asked about the next steps. It was ironic that we were a match (b-positive).”
Yuki and Stephen, who met at their church, Pin Oak Christian Fellowship, some ten years ago, continued more tests and found more matches for a possible transplant.
“Stephen’s family and my family had become very close, playing in the church band and volunteering as youth group leaders around the same time,” said Yuki. “Then we rode street bikes, dirt bikes, did skydiving and shooting guns together. Our families have been to Honduras together for mission trips.”
Mensch never asked Tsutsumi about a liver transplant, but Yuki knew Stephen’s condition was serious. Mensch learned of his liver condition (PSC) at age 18, but recently, at age 32, Stephen was told by his doctor that a transplant was the only chance of survival.
Thus, Tsutsumi volunteered to sacrifice more than half of his liver to his friend.
On October 9, both Yuki and Stephen were prepped at Baylor University Medical Center for their respective surgeries, as the medical staff, led by Dr. Giuliano Testa of Baylor Scott & White Transplant Services, took the “big lobe” of Tsutsumi’s liver (approximately 70 per cent) for the transplant to Mensch. It took nine hours to extract Yuki’s liver portion and another eleven hours to transfer to Mensch.
“I can’t be more thankful to have a friend like Yuki that would willingly sacrifice part of his body and undergo major surgery for the benefit of me and my family,” said Mensch, who works at Medical City Children’s in Dallas as an Emergency Room nurse. “Not only is he the type of guy that would give the shirt off his back, apparently he will give you an organ out of his abdomen too.”
Mensch even joked about him liking more Asian food since the liver transplant last month.
“Stephen is joking about our connection is more than a friendship,” said Tsutsumi, a father of two boys, Jacob (11) and Ryan (10). “Actually, I guess it is now. I was in the middle of racing season when we found out everything matched up for Stephen and myself.
“Our PWC season was over on the Labor Day weekend and I was able to get the proper testing for the upcoming surgery. It was something from God for Stephen and I to be a match. I wanted to save my friend’s life if possible.”
Tsutsumi’s racing career, some seven years with Fast Track Racing, has produced a Touring Car Championship with driver/team manager Toby Grahovec in 2016 and a runner-up finish this year with driver Karl Wittmer.
“Toby and the Fast Track Racing team have been totally supportive of my decision for the surgery,” said Yuki. “They knew I would be on the sidelines for three months or so after the transplant. I hope to be back at work after the first of the year. I look forward to working at the races again in 2019.”
Tsutsumi said he and Mensch have been feeling better now some three weeks after the surgery, and the doctors have been very pleased with Stephen’s progress since the Oct. 9 procedure.
“Stephen and my liver surgeries have brought together our families, our church, as well as the workers at Classic BMW,” explained Tsutsumi. “Our church, Pin Oaks Christian Fellowship, even though a small congregation, has raised enough money to support my family for over a month. Also, my co-workers at Classic BMW raised money to send us three meals a day for the twelve weeks off. The love and support from friends, family and strangers have been overwhelming.”
The whole Tsutsumi family have been behind the dual surgeries from the start as Yuki’s wife, Emily, explains:
“It makes my heart swell to know these two guys and the beautiful bond of friendship they have. These friends underwent a major surgery to repair Stephen’s liver through transplantation. I’m thankful for my husband for this gift he was so willing to give, but more thankful for the story God has woven together through this friendship. We love you, Stephen!!”
In addition to the removal of a portion of his liver, doctors removed Tsutsumi’s gall bladder in the surgery.
“The doctors said I don’t need the gall bladder either and I now have a nice scar from my belly button to my chest,” said Yuki. “Stephen’s scar is a big L-shaped and we laugh about them now. Initially, I was sleeping on the couch and on my side. But things are better now and I’m looking forward to moving around more. I can’t lift anything over ten pounds right now.”
Tsutsumi looks forward to watching his sons play basketball this winter before he heads back to Classic BMW and the 2019 racing season.
“I have to thank our team’s trainer, Kirk Burgess, for keeping our race team in shape as my physical conditioning did help with my recovery from the surgery,” said Yuki. “I am excited to get back to seeing my boys play sports as well as see Stephen up and around with his new liver. I’ll head back to Classic BMW to work as a regular mechanic and then fly into the Touring Car races. I’m anxious to get back to my regular activities.”
And Tsutsumi’s gift of life to his friend is the best present he could give for this holiday season.
Contact: Tom Blattler, firstname.lastname@example.org, 317.525.5692