My organ donation story began in March 2007 when I was just a 9-year-old. The day my story began, I felt fine and although I had been born prematurely as a twin, I had experienced no long-term problems. I was completely healthy.
Then my skin dramatically turned yellow during gym class. After several visits to the doctor and hospital over the next week, I was diagnosed with a probable case of hepatitis based on my symptoms and blood work. The 3 medications prescribed did nothing to improve the symptoms and over the next week I began to feel horrible, with increasingly shocking blood results. The doctors determined that my immune system was attacking my liver, causing it to fail. This condition led to symptoms of encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, and eventually left me incoherent. My liver was in failure and I was placed on the national transplant waiting list.
Because of my critical need, almost immediately, a liver became available. Exactly two weeks after I turned yellow in gym class, I was transplanted with my new liver. Although the liver wasn't a perfect match, doctors realized brain damage was becoming more likely with each passing hour. After a successful five-hour surgery, I emerged with a second chance and a new lease on life. I spent more than a month of recovery time in Cincinnati Children’s hospital and then next door Ronald McDonald House before I returned home to Athens.
I came home with about 20 medications that helped prevent my body from rejecting the new liver and wore a mask in public to reduce my risk of becoming sick from outside germs.
When I returned to school, I’d gone from scrawny and normal to a girl who practically lived in the hospital, was chubby from the meds I had to take multiple times during even school hours, and endure countless blood draws and tests. I was not welcome at school like I’d dreamed of being when I was in the hospital. I was bullied the first few years; I wanted to be normal.
Now I understand that I am. I’m a teenager who can do what everyone else can, except clean out my cat’s litter box or eat grapefruit. And, to be honest, I don’t have a problem with that.
I know that I’m lucky and blessed. Now that I am older I can truly appreciate the gift I have been given and my friends are much more understanding and supportive. Over the past several years, I have become a proud organ recipient and advocate, volunteering across the state. I have participated in the U.S. Transplant Games every year since the transplant, and I rode the donate life float in the rose bowl parade. I dance at my local studio and go to high school. I do things that without my transplant, I wouldn’t have been able to do, and it’s my goal to make sure that other future recipients can as well.