I have been asked a number of times to tell my story, in writing, of receiving the amazing gift of a liver. And one would think since I have shared it publicly hundreds of times in front of high school students, fellow nurses, and physicians that it would be easy. I think it is hard to write because even after almost 6 years, the whole experience still surprises me.
When I decided to have a quarter life crisis I went big- I headed back to school to become a nurse and had big plans to attend nursing school in San Diego- far from the icy winters of Kansas City, Missouri. I was getting volunteer hours for nursing school and found out that I had a latent Tuberculosis (not that uncommon) and would need to take a medication as a precaution, because I was going to be working in healthcare.
I was running, doing CrossFit, going to school, and working full time. I was a busy healthy 26-year-old. In a matter of weeks, the medication made me tired, foggy, and eventually yellow. Unfortunately, the providers that prescribed me the medication were not doing a great job of monitoring me, and in no time I was in the hospital; highlighter yellow, confused, and sicker than I could have ever imagined. After a few days and what seemed like a million sticks, pokes, and tests, it was determined that 80% of my liver had failed and only 5% was regenerating. I was miserable, exhausted, and very confused.
On Friday June 24th, 2011, I was put on the list for a liver transplant. I was so sick that I was given 48-96 hours to live without a new liver. I was status 1A. That Sunday, just two days later, there was a donor to match my O- blood. It felt like Christmas Eve as a kid; the sooner you go to bed the sooner Santa will come. I just wanted to go to sleep and wake up on the road to recovery. Sometime in the middle of that night I was taken to the OR and I remember all my family hugging and kissing me in the hallway. I am sure they were terrified and anxious and I remember thinking “OK, let’s move it along- there is a liver I need in that OR!” On June 27th, 2011, my donor gave me a second chance at life. Without them, I would not be here.
After my transplant, there were so many things I had to learn. I did not go through the extensive testing most patients go through because I had been so sick so fast that there was just no time. After I was out of the ICU, I learned that I would not be going to San Diego any time soon to go to school and live that beach dream. I get bored pretty fast and knew that doing nothing was not going help me accomplish my goals, so I enrolled in fall classes at a local school while I was in my hospital bed. I was determined to make sure this new liver had just as full of a life as I had planned for myself.
Since my transplant, I have completed nursing school, moved to San Diego, worked in numerous areas related to transplant and donation, and thanked my anonymous donor every day for letting me live my dream. Yes, I have had hiccups, and yes that dream includes more medications, labs, and doctor’s appointments, but I think I have a different drive for what I do professionally and just simply for every single day. I am able to advocate for others to donate and encourage recipients to be strong and positive. I was able to be in my best friends’ weddings, saw them have babies, became an aunt, saw a World Series game, continue to travel, and run half marathons…and I don’t plan on the list ending any time soon!
I may never meet the family of my donor, but that doesn’t keep me from loving them any less. If I ever do meet them, there will be no words to express my gratitude. For me, living each day as best and as full as I can is how I express gratitude and honor my donor. I am by no means perfect nor always do the perfect thing, but I strive to be a better person for me and for them.
Sadly, I also know what it like to be a donor family. I lost my cousin in September of 2016. When I was sick he wanted so badly todonate part of his liver, but it would not have been enough. After my transplant, he signed up to be a donor, and was able to save 5 strangers lives. My big cousin was a lot of things, but I think being a hero and organ donor is the thing that best embodies the spirit I knew. To me that is how I feel about every generous donor.