It was January 2009, just after ringing in the new year when I first felt ill. After a week of a dull stomach ache, I knew something wasn’t quite right and scheduled an appointment with my family doctor. He assured me that everything was fine and that I was just experiencing my first stomach ulcer, nothing a quick antacid prescription couldn’t fix. So, I returned to life back in Boulder as a sophomore at the University of Colorado, but the symptoms persisted. Over the next three weeks, I slowly declined, feeling physically weak, sick to my stomach and confused about my health. I had begun seeing a gastroenterologist in Boulder in another attempt to get my body back to its normal state. As I carried myself into the clinic and struggled to make it up the stairs to the 3rd floor, where Dr. Levine’s clinic was, I remember thinking that things would be just fine. I never thought in a million years I was about to embark on a journey that would forever change my life. That day, after a series of tests and blood draws, Dr. Levine sent me home and said he would call at 6pm with the lab results. Shortly after 6pm Dr. Levine called. What I didn’t know at the time was that he had already called my parents, who live four hours from Denver, and told them that their daughter was very sick, they needed to be in Denver immediately. He proceeded to tell me that evening that I needed to take myself to the ER, something was very wrong. At the time I was living with my brother, who didn’t hesitate to rush me to Boulder Community Hospital. Not more than 60 minutes later my other two brothers arrived at the ER with flowers magazines and worried minds. It was there that I learned my liver was failing and I only had a matter of days before it would completely shut down. I was in shock, it was a all a bit surreal at just 20 years-old. I spent the next two days in Boulder as each organ slowly lost function, they soon realized I would need to be taken to the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora.
When I arrived at UCH, the transplant team confirmed the results from Dr. Levine’s office and I was officially diagnosed with Wilson’s Disease, a disease in which the liver cannot metabolize copper. It is a genetic disorder that I had unknowingly had all of my life. I was immediately placed on the transplant list and quickly adapted to my new reality; a liver transplant is the only way to cure Wilson’s. Over the next two weeks, as I waited in the hospital, my organs were stabilized and I began feeling normal again just in time for my new liver. I’ll never forget the feeling of waiting for the call that let me know I would get a second chance at life. It was nerve-wracking, exciting, and terrifying all at the same time. It was a heavy feeling knowing someone else’s tragedy would be my saving grace and nothing could prepare me for the surgery I was about to go through.
After a nail-biting four hours of waiting, my family met me in recovery. The surgery was a success and emotions were high as we all realized that my life had been saved. I quickly bounced back and, with a good amount of painkillers and support, I kept my spirits high and my sights on getting out of the hospital. I remember Dr. Kam told me that a former professional snowboarder, Chris Klug, made it out of the hospital in less than a week. I could do that, I thought. Sure enough, my parents loaded me up in the car not more than four days after the life-changing surgery and took me back to my apartment in Boulder for a long recovery. Over the next two months, I made daily visits to the outpatient facility and struggled with immediate rejection of the organ. I was in and out of the hospital but remained positive that this would all be over soon.
I had taken the semester off and planned on staying with my parents until I was fully recovered. During my time at home, I received a call from a friend asking if I was interested in attempting to participate in the Bolder Boulder, a 10k run held each year in Boulder, CO. I said, sure, why not? If I could have a liver transplant, I could certainly run a 10k. I signed up and participated in the race with two close friends, just 3 months and 2 weeks after my surgery. To this day, I have no prouder moment in life than crossing that finish line and realizing that life is only what we have today, tomorrow is never guaranteed. I am grateful for each day I have, for my amazing and supportive family and to the team of doctors and surgeons who are dedicated to saving lives every day.