In part, perhaps, because Fabares wasn't sure how much life she had left. Two years ago an autoimmune form of hepatitis began ravaging her liver, causing internal bleeding and putting the former Coach
and Donna Reed Show
star on the waiting list for a liver transplant.
Shortly after midnight on Oct. 22, Fabares and her husband of 16 years, onetime M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell, 61, now on Providence
, got the news that a donor liver had been found. The couple quickly made the 30-minute drive from their home in Studio City, Calif., to an L.A. hospital, where Fabares underwent seven hours of surgery the next morning.
The procedure seems to have gone smoothly, though Fabares is expected to remain hospitalized for about two weeks. "She's great now, a little weak, and no solid food," says Farrell. "She's a tough cookie."
She has needed to be. Fabares, an organic-food devotee who avoids alcohol and exercises regularly, first learned she had a liver abnormality in 1993. Though doctors still don't know its cause, friends and family say Fabares never indulged in self-pity. Two days before her surgery, "she was positive," says her aunt, actress Nanette Fabray, 80. "She said, 'Look, I'm glad we're living in a time that we can do this.' "
Tough actress Shelley Fabares, 56, kept the severity of her liver illness a secret for two years, there were signs that she wasn't her usual self. "One week she would have blue streaks in her hair, the next fuchsia," says friend Margery Tabankin, 52, with a laugh. "Her attitude was 'I'm going to do what I wished I could have done all my life!' "