After a storybook homecoming at Christmastime, Don Little’s friends and family are left with a final chapter that has a sad ending.
Little — who underwent a multiorgan transplant in 2011 to replace a stomach, pancreas, liver and small intestine that had been ravaged by cancer — passed away Wednesday.
“Thanks to everyone for your sweet prayers and posts. My brother Don Little passed away peacefully with family and friends by his side today,” wrote Connie Little Stephens on her Facebook page that evening.
“He was the best brother a girl could have. We will miss him, but we know he is no longer suffering.
“He is having a wonderful homecoming with our Dad. God’s grace is sufficient. Love to all. Remember his wife Debbie and his precious boys, Jeremy and Jordan.”
Prior to his passing, Little fought a battle against a unique case of pancreatic cancer. Testing revealed he had neuroendocrine tumors; such cases represent less than 4 percent of all pancreatic cancer diagnoses.
Following the initial assessment in 2006, it was discovered that the cancer had metastasized and spread to his liver, stomach and small intestine.
After exhausting all other treatment options, Little’s medical team determined that his tumor-riddled organs would need to be replaced simultaneously.
In order to be placed on the transplant list at Indiana University Health University Hospital, one of the few hospitals that performs the multiorgan surgery, Little and his wife had to relocate temporarily to Indianapolis.
They arrived on Sept. 27, 2010, waiting six months before a matching donor was found.
Although the surgery itself went well, Little’s recovery was marred with complications such as a leak in his esophagus and an infection that wreaked havoc on his already weakened body.
There were several occasions when the doctors questioned if Little would survive the ordeal and they instructed his wife to notify the family.
Each time, aided by the many prayers being offered to the heavens on his behalf from Gainesville, Little rallied and pulled through.
“It felt like we were right there with them,” said the Rev. Mark Russell, associate pastor of New Holland Baptist Church, where Don and Debbie Little had been members since the 1980s.
“We kept in close contact. Our interim pastor kept up with Debbie (Little) via cell. We had updates nearly every day. Every time we had an update, we would put it out to our email prayer list.
“On a couple of occasions, we ran a cellphone through our sound system and (Little) was able to address the church from the hospital.”
Finally, after a months-long, hospital-bound recovery, Little was allowed to fly back to Hall County in December, where he was expected to be observed for a few days at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center before being transferred to an acute care rehabilitation center.
In February, more medical complications led to the Littles making another trip to the hospital in Indiana where he’d received his new organs.
Ultimately, the 56-year-old’s body was unable to continue its long fight.
Funeral services for Little will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Mount Vernon Baptist Church, 5233 Will Wheeler Road in Murrayville.
“(Little) was a great guy and he’s going to be missed,” Russell said.
“He was a humble man. A warm man and very well thought of in this community. He was all about his family and had a genuine love for people.
“He was a person who got all out of life that he could. This has been a very emotional time for everyone, including his church family, but as believers, we don’t think he lost his battle to cancer.
“We think (Little) won.”