Liver donation, love of gardening strengthen bond between mother and son
July 27, 2013 8:00 AM
Susan Kaiser's garden at her home in Brentwood.
A pond in Susan Kaiser's vegetable garden.
Chris Kaiser with his parents, Susan and Ralph, at their home in Brentwood.
The gateway to Susan Kaisers vegetable garden.
Susan Kaiser and her son Chris at work in Susan's vegetable garden at her home in Brentwood.
By Maggie Neil Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ten years ago, Chris Kaiser gave his mother, Susan, part of his liver. Today, both healthy, they share something else: a garden.
"How many people in the world can say that?" said former state Rep. Ralph Kaiser, his father and her husband.
Chris Kaiser, 36, heads to his parents' home in Brentwood, the home he grew up in, every Saturday to work on his mother's garden. Come springtime, he clears the land in preparation for a new planting season. His parents say he is especially good with the tiller.
"If things need to be done, I'm the one to do it," he said. "I like [gardening] because my mom likes it. It makes her extremely happy."
Mr. Kaiser started helping his mother in spring 2004, shortly after the transplant surgery at UPMC in August 2003. "He basically saved her life, and that started it," his father said.
Mrs. Kaiser was diagnosed with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, an illness that causes liver inflammation and severe damage to liver cells. She needed a new liver, but liver donations are notoriously difficult to come by. Once a liver is located, blood type and other factors must match up exactly for the transplant to be successful.
"We all got ourselves tested, and Chris was a perfect match, so he gave two-thirds of his liver to my wife. ... That made the bond between mother and son very very close. That's turned into gardening," said the elder Mr. Kaiser.
The garden, which Mrs. Kaiser referred to as a jungle, is mostly vegetables -- tomatoes, peppers, cabbages and eggplant -- plus some ornamental plants, including Japanese maples, lilies, hydrangeas and boxwoods pruned in the shape of hens, which Mrs. Kaiser bought for $1 each.
"She even takes stuff off the death rack and nurses them back," her husband said. "You'd be surprised how many 99-centers we have."
Mrs. Kaiser says that she grew up gardening and has passed that love on to her children. It's a multigenerational, family affair.
"I got a lot of gardening from my mother," said Mrs. Kaiser, who goes to the nursery every Sunday with her 93-year-old mother, Adela Radziminski of Brentwood, who still gardens every day.
Her daughter, Jacky, who lives on the South Side, is a gardener. Even Anelica, Chris Kaiser's 20-month old daughter, loves gardening.
"She loves dirt," Susan Kaiser said. "If she gets water, the first thing she does is go over and water the trees."
In the 1970s, the Kaisers owned Crock Pot, a small plant store on Brownsville Road where they sold mainly house plants.
Chris Kaiser said that his mother is able to picture how the garden will look before anything has been planted or bloomed. Despite, or perhaps because of, this talent, Mrs. Kaiser said that she doesn't plan her garden.
"I always just planted what I liked. I don't know if that's right, but that's what I did. I've probably lost thousands of dollars worth of plants over the 30-some years I've been gardening. You really have to learn from your mistakes."
In May 2012, Chris Kaiser moved to a new house in Peters, Washington County. His mother was happy to transplant some of the things he had helped her grow.
"We dug some stuff up and brought it to his house," she said.