I still vividly remember the beautiful autumn day when my husband and I raked leaves for hours, nearly forgetting our commitment at church to donate blood that afternoon for a blood drive. We were so tempted to skip the blood drive as we were both dirty and tired. But, a commitment is a commitment, so we went. Little did I know that the blood donation would actually save MY life nearly 13 years later.
My blood donation was rejected. After many doctor visits and numerous tests, I received the diagnosis that I had a rare, non-contagious liver disease called Primary Biliary Cirrhosis (PBC). My doctor said the good news was that it is a progressive, slow-to-develop disease and that by the time I required a liver transplant, much progress would be made in transplanting major organs and in finding suitable organ matches.
My husband and I went through the normal stages of denial, fear, and anger in the process of learning all we could about PBC and organ donation. I couldn't even imagine going through a liver transplant, realizing someone else had to die in order to save my life. Slowly but surely, the disease progressed until I experienced the symptoms of esophageal bleeding, itching, yellowing eyes and skin, and horrible fatigue. Ten years after my diagnosis, I was placed on the waiting list at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC. For three years we made monthly trips from our home in Greensboro to Duke for tests and labs. When my fatigue became nearly unbearable and the lab numbers grew higher and higher, I was placed at the top of the list for the transplant waiting list for a liver.
Without the support of my family, my friends and my faith, I don't know how I would have made it the last three months before I got "THE CALL" that Duke had found a matching organ. On Mother's Day 2001, the call came at 10:30 p.m. Suddenly, we were on our way to Durham. My donor angel had told her family that if anything ever happened to her "prematurely," she wanted to donate her organs and tissues. Sadly, she died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. Yet, her foresight actually saved my life! Her donated liver was a perfect match -- and I was blessed to never experience any rejection.
One month later I returned home to Greensboro, healing and marveling at my new level of energy. I felt great and, with the help of my faith and my minister, I was able to accept that people die and, fortunately many choose to donate their organs and tissues to save lives. My favorite bumper sticker is: "Don't take your organs to heaven; heaven knows we need them here!"
Today, 13 years later, I have been blessed with new life and energy to watch our four grandchildren grow up. I have owned and operated a great women's fitness center, and I trained and actually completed my first 5K. I am a volunteer at our hospital and a speaker for Carolina Donor Services and Donate Life North Carolina. My life since discovering my old liver disease has been focused -- not on death -- but on the gift of NEW LIFE!!