My thoughts are with F21’s family, the 21-year-old female who, 5 years ago today, saved my life upon her death. I am forever grateful. 💚 Here’s to many more bonus years filled with opportunities to love, serve, encourage, and inspire.
It was winter 2017. I was in a blissful stage of life. I had relocated to Douglasville, Georgia (West Atlanta), close to my closest friends, with exciting business opportunities, and most importantly, near the church I had been serving remotely for almost a decade. Everything was going swimmingly... until 3 months later.
I was energetic. I could run after my little twin nephews for miles, and climbing the three flights of stairs to my garage apartment was a breeze. But then, something shifted.
I noticed a rapid and significant weight gain. Like most women, I attributed it to bloating or perhaps indulging in too many late-night Applebee's runs. However, no amount of effort seemed to make a difference. Moreover, I began experiencing shortness of breath after even minor exertion. This was the most concerning symptom.
On the morning of March 6th, I woke up, took a long look in the mirror, and couldn't believe my eyes. My stomach resembled a basketball firmly lodged beneath my skin. This prompted me to visit the local ER, but the results were inconclusive. It was then that I remembered I hadn't yet transferred my health insurance from Mississippi to Georgia. My immediate reaction was to "run" back to Mississippi, a drive I had made countless times over the past decade. It was familiar territory, so I threw some clothes and my laptop in a backpack and hit the road.
I won't delve into the diagnostic details, but during a late June meeting with a transplant surgeon and a hepatologist, I was essentially told, "Liver transplant or die."
You can imagine the whirlwind of thoughts that flooded my mind. Thirty-seven years old, recently a (seemingly) healthy individual, now facing potential death if I couldn't get a liver transplant? In that moment, I recalled Robin Roberts' words from her book "Everybody's Got Something." When asked how she maintained hope and fought through challenges, she simply replied, "I wanted to live. What was I going to do?" My response mirrored hers: "OK. What's next?"
Due to the rapid weight gain (over 150lbs in a few months), I wasn't physically fit for a transplant. The next few months were dedicated to managing fluid buildup while witnessing my life and happiness fading away – the inability to play with the kids, walk even a short distance without needing to sit down, etc. I made peace with God multiple times daily, believing each breath could be my last. Uncertainty was a vast understatement.
Three months later, with the incredible support of UMMC physicians and my unwavering commitment, my body shed over 150 pounds of fluid. I was finally in a better position to undergo an organ transplant. On October 29, 2018, I was officially listed for transplant, and within 4 weeks, I received my first organ offer. However, the recovered liver wasn't suitable for my case, and it ended up being a dry run. Disappointed but not discouraged, I returned home.
In such a situation, questioning why this was happening to me was natural. You spend 38 years striving to be a good person, yet face unimaginable challenges. This is where hope played a crucial role. It's where I realized that everything, good or bad, serves a purpose – even if it meant death.
People often ask how I managed to stay calm and collected. My response remains constant: "I pray for the best; I prepare for the worst, and I'm OK with either one."
Speaking of the best, on December 8, 2018, approximately 6 weeks after being listed for transplant, I received my life-saving liver transplant at The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, from the gifted hands of Dr. Felicitas Koller. Less than four days after my transplant, I headed home, possibly setting the hospital's record for the fastest discharge... and possibly the fastest transplant as my operation took less than 3 hours.
While I won't claim every day as sunshine and rainbows, every day is indeed a blessing. Each day is an opportunity to immerse myself in organ donation advocacy, honor my donor, and make their family proud. Every day is a day to live life with gratitude and look forward to the future.