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'A whole new family': Port Washington police officer, student bond over life-threatening illness

Posted at 8:03 AM, May 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-01 09:04:53-04

The Port Washington Police Officer who needed a liver transplant to save his life last year said a friendship with a local eighth grader continues to help him through the recovery process.

TODAY'S TMJ4 first introduced viewers to Officer Gary Belzer in January, 2018.

He had been struggling with Non-Alcoholic Cirrhosis Hepatitis since 2014.

The illness caused his liver to fail, leaving it unable to properly filter his body's blood.

The health condition caused Belzer to suffer from internal bleeding, hernias, and constant fatigue.

Belzer wasn't sure anyone in Port Washington understood the suffering he endured because of NACH, and the agonizing wait for a transplant that often tried his patience.

But Emory Birling, now in 8th grade, received a liver transplant in January 2018 after waiting 11 months.

She, like Belzer, needed a new liver after her body developed NACH.

Last summer, prior to receiving his transplant, Belzer took the initiative to reach out to Birling and say hello.

"He came up to me and said hi, and said, 'I need a transplant too.' So I told him, 'I already got mine,' and I showed him my scar," Birling said of the pair's first encounter. "We've been talking ever since."

"Talking with her helped me prepare for what I needed to do, and what was going to come eventually," Belzer said.

Belzer received a transplant last August, and missed five months of work at Port Washington Police during a grueling recovery.

He said his wife and two boys provided him with incredible support.

"I had to sleep on the couch, upright, for three months," Belzer said.

But Officer Belzer added that staying in touch with Birling also helped him fight through the recovery process.

"If you haven't been through it, it's hard to explain," Belzer said. "It's not only the mental and emotional stress you have, it's also just the uncomfortableness you feel every day. Your life has changed."

Birling said her friendship with Belzer has been just as helpful to her.

"It makes me feel good that I now have someone looking out for me, no matter what," Birling said.

"Do you guys feel like family now?" TODAY'S TMJ4 asked.

"Yeah - definitely," Birling replied.

"It's like a whole new family," Belzer said. "We're bonded together now by our livers. The thing that wanted to kill us both, now saved both of us."

Birling and Belzer both must undergo regular check up's at their doctor, and are taking medication to help keep their livers working properly.

However both said, so far, their bodies have responded very well to the transplants.