Five years ago at the age of 21 I went to the Emergency Room for some side pain and internal bleeding. They did their typical lab work and my liver function results were out of range. The next thing I know I am being hospitalized and a nurse comes in and mentions something about my “cirrhosis”. I thought she had the wrong room. Then she realized nobody had told me. Kind of a big oops on her part. She sent the doctor in and he informed me that I had cirrhosis of the liver and would need a liver transplant. At 21!? I don’t drink or do drugs. However, even though this was devastating news, I was ok with it. I knew that God was going to get me through it, no matter what happened.
They tested me for everything under the sun to try to figure out why my liver failed. To this day, they still don’t know. I don’t have hepatitis A, B, C or any other liver disease. They sent my biopsies to 3 major hospitals and still can’t tell me why my liver failed.
I decided to treat my cirrhosis naturally. I had strong convictions and my doctors felt that it was ok, because they didn’t have a treatment either. I spent the next 5 years doing every natural protocol you could think of. At one point, I was almost off of the transplant list as I was getting better on one natural treatment but it was so expensive I had to stop and that is when I got a lot worse. It was in November of 2010 that I really went downhill. I spent a year almost bed-ridden.
From the beginning, they gave us the option of doing a living donor liver transplant and my sister had always said from day one that she would give me part of her liver. Well, after getting sicker and sicker, I was to the point where I couldn’t do anything. I had to use a wheel-chair in stores and had 50 pounds of water retention (ascites). My eyes and skin were as yellow as a sunflower. I was in and out of ER. Finally, I had to make the hardest decision of my life. Suffer for who knows how much longer and chance receiving a transplant (18 people die a day waiting for transplants). So I decided to take my sister up on her offer. After months of testing and doctors appointments, a biopsy and so many trips for my sister to San Francisco, we were ready to proceed. The date was set: August 12, 2011 I would receive the most precious, selfless and amazing gift anyone could ever give. And that anyone was my best friend and sister, Kelly.
The night before surgery was rough, my family and Coleman were scared, Kelly was scared as was her husband. I wasn’t really scared but more upset for Kelly being scared. And of course my parents had BOTH of their daughters going into a MAJOR surgery. I hated that Kelly had to go through this but at the same time was so thankful I would’ve sang it from the roof tops!
The day of surgery Kelly came out of surgery first. As Kelly came out they started to let my family know there were some complications with me. My family heard from the doctors twice during my entire transplant. What was supposed to be at the max an 8 hour surgery turned into a 16 hour surgery. One of the main arteries was not viable and could not be fixed. They took a vein from my leg and when that didn’t work, they called in plastic surgery and they took a vein from my spleen to try to make that work. That artery failed 3 hours after I got out of the transplant. With a failed liver transplant, the doctors gave me just a few weeks to live!
My parents thought that was the end of the story. They honestly thought they had to come see me with no hope, they sobbed for hours that morning before they came to see me. They put me back to sleep with meds when the artery failed, until they could take my breathing tube out because they were scared I was going to have a melt down when they told me that my sister went through surgery for no good reason and that the transplant failed. I didn’t of course, I have always had faith that God would get me through. I knew I was going to be ok. I was just so sad for my sister and I felt she went through surgery for no reason.
Then they let us know that I was going to be placed on the top of the liver transplant list in 5 states! Four long days later, they came to me and told me they had found another liver. It was just my mom and I in the ICU room. My then fiance, Coleman was out getting my favorite chocolate with my his mom (who flew from Georgia to be with us for my transplant). I was hooked up to so many things I could barely move. It was pretty crazy.
That is when my sister also let me know that I shouldn’t be sad, that I was moved to the top of the list and was able to receive a whole sized liver because of what she did. (She donated half of her liver to me which would have required a longer/harder recovery) I wouldn’t have been able to be where I was without her. She had the most positive outlook. I was so blessed. She took it better than I did, just another testament of what an amazing person she is.
It was pretty strange because I had all these feelings about the 2nd transplant. Sadness that my sisters liver failed, I was so sad for her! I was heart-broken for the family who just lost their son in a bicycle accident and that I was to receive his liver. Excitement that I was going to live. Anxiety that I had to have the same 47 staple incision cut open again and have vital organs removed, yet again. That is something nobody should ever have to do, let alone twice in their life! Let alone in 4 days!
The 2nd transplant went well, they were done in a record 4 hours! Quite the difference from the first 16 hour surgery. I love my new “big boy” liver. I call it that because in my MRI scans it is very large! It has been a long and hard recovery. But I am so blessed and everyday I am so thankful for every breath. Every hug I get and every little moment I treasure.
This wasn’t the first time I almost died, perhaps that is why I had so much faith that God would get me through. He has saved me from dying 7 other times (and those weren’t even health related, well ok one of them was)!! My God NEVER lets me down and has blessed me immeasurably.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Now I am ready to move on and live the life that my sister and my donor and of course God has blessed me with! I am back in school working on my nursing degree. I hope to become a transplant nurse. I get to do all the things I love again!
I just want to thank Kelly, though words would NEVER be enough, my donor and his family, again no words can describe my gratefulness. Coleman, who was there every second of every day catering to my every need, my parents who were always there, standing up for me, making the appointments, phone calls and being my advocates, especially my amazing mom. My other sister Kristin and my brother Kevin, that when my transplant failed tried to see if they could donate half of their livers to me…. and everyone who came to see me at the hospital, you will never know how much that meant to me, or if you sent me a card. It really is the little things that count. And of course all of the doctors, nurses and wonderful staff at UCSF. What a WONDERFUL hospital!
I want to encourage you to live your life to the fullest. God has good plans for you, even if you can’t see them right now. He really does work all things together for good and He loves you. Just as He saved my life with a transplant, He saves you everyday from things seen and unseen. He is there in that sunset and that quiet voice at night that says, “You are amazing” You have every right to believe that because you were created in Gods image.