TAMPA — After months of waiting for a match, the daughter of a slain Tampa police detective is expected to undergo potentially life-saving liver transplant surgery today at Florida Hospital in Orlando.
Demetra Bell Jones, 39, has autoimmune hepatitis. She has endured immune disorders since childhood, but her failed liver was by far the most critical.
"Her condition worsened over the weekend, and the doctors decided she needed to be No. 1 on the transplant list," said her uncle, Jeff Bell.
A doctor came into Jones' room at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday to tell her that a donor had been identified, Bell said. The surgery was initially scheduled for Tuesday but was delayed a day.
"Her spirits are good," he said. "She's very excited. She looks reasonably well and is ready to go."
Jones is the daughter of Randy Bell, who was killed with fellow Detective Rick Childers on May 19, 1998, when a prisoner used a hidden key to unlock his handcuffs. That man, Hank Earl Carr, had already shot a 4-year-old boy to death and went on to kill Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James "Brad" Crooks before turning a gun on himself.
Jeff Bell said Jones is thankful for the prayers and support of people in the Tampa Bay area and in Fort Myers, where she has lived with her husband and son in recent years. Together, the communities raised about $100,000 in contributions after learning of her health problems from news accounts.
The family's elation over the availability of a liver for transplant was tempered by the knowledge that its existence means another family grieves. Jones doesn't yet know the identity of the organ donor.
"Obviously, we are immensely grateful," Jeff Bell said, "and our prayers are with the donor's family."
Jones initially sought a transplant at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville but her family encouraged her to get on additional waiting lists. When she learned that her original Mayo Clinic doctor had transferred to Florida Hospital Transplant Institute in Orlando, that gave her confidence to proceed, her uncle said.
And that's where hope took hold Tuesday.
The surgery is expected to take several hours.
"She's tough," he said. "She's a trouper. If anybody can pull through this, she can."
Patty Ryan can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or [email protected]