June 17, 2003
MOUNTAIN GROVE – Hepatitis C has destroyed Rex Letterman’s liver to the point where he must get a new one soon or he will die. He does not despair, though.
“I have strong faith and I’m blessed by knowing God,” said Letterman, 47, a member of Southside Baptist Church. “If I do die it’s not a terrible thing, but if I do live, I would like to be able to at least get out and do something. I’m pretty much homebound, couch-bound. I don’t have very much energy and I sleep a whole lot.”
Letterman is first on the liver transplant list at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Complicating matters is his A negative blood type, which is “fairly rare,” he said. His Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) score indicates the seriousness of his condition.
On a numerical scale ranging from MELD 6 (less ill) to MELD 40 (gravely ill), Letterman is a MELD 22. A MELD score of 30 can mean death, Letterman said.
Hepatitis C virus affects about 4 million Americans. It can result in cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure.
“You don’t actually die so much of the liver as you would from an infection or liver cancer or something to that effect,” Letterman said.
Letterman shares a special bond with his pastor, Roger Flint, who preached his first sermon at the church Feb. 3. On Feb. 6, a lonely Letterman called the church to request a visit. Deacon Bill Austin passed on the information to the new pastor and a deacon in-training, Ross Fish, who went out that night in a snowstorm to the home where Letterman lives.
“He had no reason logically to call Southside, but for some reason he called Southside Baptist Church,” said Flint, who was once fired by a liberal Mid-Missouri congregation after he dared to preach against abortion. “To this day he (Letterman) doesn’t know why he called Southside (rather than a larger church).”
For many years Letterman was out of church. He became a Christian through the influence of a Springfield pastor, but then drifted away from church. Eventually he grew tired of the life he was living.
On Feb. 10, Letterman presented himself to Southside for baptism and membership. It is memorable for Flint in that he baptized four people that day. The church runs about 130 to 150 in worship.
“It was just a really joyous occasion for me,” Letterman said. “I just really felt that I had done the right thing. That’s been a turning point in my life. I’ve been attending church regularly since then and it’s been a blessing to me.”
Since then Letterman has joined Flint for visitation about six times and has helped him with work around the church, including making some wooden letters that hung in the church on Father’s Day.
“He really has a fervent love for the Lord,” Flint said. “God really has given him a new lease on life.”
He lives with his mother, Patricia Litty, as he awaits a donor. Either of them can be reached at (417) 926-5656.
“It’s a 15-hour operation, quite involved,” Letterman said. “It’s possible to receive half of a liver, and the first half will grow back in the donor and then the second half will grow to full size in the recipient.”
He is thankful for friends from church who pray for him and call to see how well he is doing. Their kindnesses remind him of heaven. Because his sins have been forgiven, he can look to the future with hope.
“I guess you could say I’ve led a pretty rough life,” Letterman said. “Being saved by Jesus Christ has been a tremendous improvement. True joy comes from knowing God.”