Arts & Culture

Life Imitates Art

Everyman play mirrors lighting director’s real-life saga.

It was Labor Day 2014 when Jay Herzog went to the emergency room. “I put on about 35 to 40 pounds within a week,” says Herzog, a professor in the theater department at Towson University and, for the last 20 years, the resident lighting designer for Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre. His ultimate diagnosis would be alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a rare inherited condition that was causing his liver to fail and his body to retain water (hence the weight gain). But the only thing doctors were sure of then was that he needed a new liver—stat.

On January 21, 2015, the married father of two was wheeled into surgery at University of Maryland Medical Center to receive a new liver.

But unlike the majority of transplants performed in the U.S., for which the organ is harvested from a deceased donor, Herzog’s was a living donor transplant, meaning he received a portion of a liver from a healthy donor. Because livers can regenerate, both donor and transplant recipient end up with full-sized livers.

Living donations are often preferable, especially for patients with liver failure, says Dr. Rolf Barth, the lead surgeon on Herzog’s transplant team.

“Because of the shortage of available livers for transplantation, only about half of the patients waiting for transplantation will receive a transplant,” he says. “Deceased donor organs are only allocated to the sickest patients, thus . . . others may end up without a realistic chance of transplant if a living donor does not step forward.”

Coincidentally, while Herzog was recuperating, Everyman artistic director Vincent Lancisi was scouting plays for the 2015-2016 season. In Philadelphia, he saw Under the Skin, a new play about a father in need of a new kidney from his estranged daughter. “I just loved the play,” says Lancisi. “It’s about what it means to give a piece of yourself to someone else. I couldn’t wait to tell Jay about it.” Herzog also loved the play, which opened on January 20—almost exactly one year after his transplant—and runs through February 21.

Herzog is seizing the play as an opportunity for advocacy, with organizations, including the Living Legacy Foundation and Transplant Recipients International Organization (TRIO), distributing information in the lobby. Says Herzog: “When you go through something like this, we look for reasons why. And my reason now is to share the word about transplants.”